A measure to require the Tennessee attorney general to defend residents against federal laws or regulations mandating that citizens purchase private health insurance is headed to the state Senate floor.
Tennessee is among about 36 states now trying to legislatively assert sovereignty against what sponsors of the various new statutes and constitutional amendments see as federal encroachment into policy areas the U.S. Bill of Rights reserves to state governments.
On Tuesday, the Idaho House of Representatives approved a bill similar to the one under consideration in the General Assembly here. And last week, Virginia’s state Senate approved legislation prohibiting government at any level from requiring that individuals purchase health insurance.
“It is declared that the public policy of this state, consistent with our constitutionally recognized and inalienable rights of liberty, is that every person within this state is and shall be free to choose or decline to choose any mode of securing health care services without penalty or threat of penalty,” reads SB3498, which passed out of the Senate Commerce, Labor & Agriculture Committee Tuesday with eight votes in favor and one member, Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, abstaining.
Two versions of health care reform were passed by Congress last year and are now awaiting reconciliation. Both include requirements that most Americans carry medical insurance.
Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, chief sponsor of the proposed “Tennessee Health Freedom Act,” called the federal policy on individual mandates “unprecedented.”
“The federal government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residency,” Beavers told the Senate committee. “All my bill does is say that you don’t have to purchase health insurance. I don’t think the federal government has any business telling us in the state of Tennessee that we have to buy health insurance.”
Beavers said the new federal laws under consideration could require Tennesseans to pay up to $15,000 a year in health insurance, with the IRS put in charge of enforcing penalties against those who do not.
“This health care that is proposed in Congress seeks to ban our decision to do nothing,” said Beavers. “This bill would protect the person’s right to participate, or not, in any health care system.”
The only member of the committee who voiced any reservations during discussion of the bill was Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere.
Stewart said he agrees that the neither the federal government, nor the state, should force the purchase of health insurance. But he asked, “How do we fill the hole along the lines of auto insurance where I pay the premiums and I pay an uninsured-motorist premium because some folks are not living by the law and are not taking care of their responsibilities?”
Beavers responded, “There are people out there who are going to work the system, and I don’t think any law that you are going to pass is going to take care of that.”
Stewart later voted in favor of sending the bill to the Senate floor.
In a press release issued later, Beavers said, “Unlike car insurance which is not compulsory but is required when one chooses to utilize the privilege of driving on public roads, the pending health insurance mandates are entirely different because they are based solely as a requirement of U.S. citizenship.”