Several Middle Tennessee Republicans are taking on the Affordable Care Act, with a new bill that would bar state and local governments — and possibly also companies that do business with them — from buying health insurance through the federal website.
State Sen. Mae Beavers and three House Republicans released a bill Wednesday designed to stop President Barack Obama's health care reform law by discouraging use of its health insurance exchange, HealthCare.gov.
The bill is sure to face formidable legal questions. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the core of the Affordable Care Act was constitutional, and past attempts to stop the health care law in Tennessee have run aground because of the well-established constitutional principle that state laws cannot trump federal laws.
The bill would make it illegal for Tennessee and local officials to "assist in implementing" the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It also would prohibit the state, local governments and educational institutions from buying coverage for their employees through the website.
The measure also might make it illegal for state contractors to buy insurance on the exchange, even for their own employees.
State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, said the measure, Senate Bill 1680, would form "a firewall" around Tennessee, keeping out the Affordable Care Act. Similar legislation is under consideration in South Carolina and Georgia, Beavers said.
"It's quite evident the federal government is wanting a monopoly on insurance coverage in this country," the Mt. Juliet Republican said. "They've shown already that they're not capable of doing it."
State Reps. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, said they back the measure.
Gov. Bill Haslam said through a spokesman that he was aware of the legislation but hadn't "had a chance to review its impact and how it would work."
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The bill, named the Health Care Freedom and ACA Noncompliance Act, would be the latest in a long line of measures filed in the Tennessee legislature taking aim at the health care law. But with ACA's popularity falling, it appears to represent the most aggressive attempt to date to thwart the federal measure.
Its ramifications reach far. The measure not only would bar state and local officials from enforcing the Affordable Care Act but also would prohibit them from participating in it.
That could cause immediate problems for TennCare. Since Jan. 1, the state's Medicaid program has been using HealthCare.gov to sign up new enrollees until a new state-run website is completed.
The bill also extends to state contractors, although there is some ambiguity about the extent to which private companies would be affected.
Beavers told reporters Wednesday that no company with a contract with the state could offer insurance from HealthCare.gov. But Jim Brown, state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said he interpreted the measure as saying only that state agencies could not hire contractors to take actions they are prohibited from doing.
Beavers said she believes this latest measure is on sure legal ground. She said "anti-commandeering laws" and Supreme Court rulings, including one in a 1997 case involving gun control, bar the federal government from making states enforce its laws.
"The answer is going to be the individual states, enough of them enacting language (or) something like this, to be able to make it fail," she said.
Reach Chas Sisk at 615-259-8283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.