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Health Care Liberty and Justice News

Fight to Finish Over Federal Health Care Reform

The state-level war over the national health-care package is going down to the wire in the 2010 Tennessee Legislature.

The House on Tuesday passed the “Health Care Freedom Act” — not to be confused with the “Health Freedom Act” the Senate approved earlier this session. However, there’s talk the two might in some way be merged or their language reconciled with one another before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

Both pieces of legislation state generally that government can’t require citizens to purchase health insurance. But the Senate’s version is broader in scope — for example, directing the state attorney general to defend Tennesseans who choose to ignore the federal mandate.

The Senate is scheduled to take up the acts and issues surrounding them again today, on what leaders in both chambers have said is likely to be the last day of the session.

“We’re going to have discussion on the bill in the Senate on the floor, and we’ll just have to see what comes out of that,” said Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, whose SB2560 is the companion bill to HB2622 passed by the House.

Last week the Senate voted to pull SB2560 out of a closed committee to ready it for floor action, including possible alteration and amendment. That move was precipitated by the House killing the original “Health Freedom Act” in the Budget Subcommittee, which is controlled by Democrats and House Speaker Kent Williams.

Further complicating the issue is that Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper has stated that the “Health Freedom Act” is unconstitutional. On the other hand, the “Health Care Freedom Act,” wrote Cooper, probably does not run afoul of  either the United States or Tennessee constitutions.

The “Health Care Freedom Act,” sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, states: “The people of Tennessee have a right to enter into private contracts with health care providers for health care services and to purchase private health care coverage. The legislature shall not require any person to participate in any health care system or plan, nor shall it impose a penalty or fine, of any type, for choosing to obtain or decline health care coverage or for participation in any particular health care system or plan.”

Black wouldn’t say what she anticipates happening or exactly what she’ll be proposing as far as amendment or adoption of SB2560. Adding to the uncertainty is the ongoing political feud in the GOP between Rep. Susan Lynn and Sen. Mae Beavers, two Mt. Juliet Republicans who are running for the same Senate seat this year. Beavers was the sponsor of the “Health Freedom Act,” Lynn of the language passed by the House Tuesday.

“The only thing that I can say is the Senate will be the Senate, and they will give the bill debate just like they do on any other bill,” Black said.

Debate in the House on Tuesday over Lynn’s bill was mostly a rehashing of well-worn positions staked out by conservatives and progressives in the Legislature. The measure ultimately passed, 53-32.

Republicans generally argued the federal government has no legitimate power to demand that individuals purchase health insurance or any other product. Democrats maintain that the states have no constitutional authority to resist the demands of the federal government.

Andrea Zelinski contributed video interviews for this story.