JEFFERSON CITY | As Congress neared a vote on a federal health care overhaul, the Missouri House approved a state constitutional amendment Tuesday that seeks to block a government mandate to buy health insurance.
The plan would ban penalties or fines from being levied against individuals and employers in Missouri who opt out of insurance and pay directly for their own health care. Under the plan, Medical providers could not be penalized for accepting direct payments for health care.
Only Democrats voted against the bill, and several said the measure could inhibit health care changes that could help many Missourians. But Republicans contend that the federal health care legislation — a $1 trillion, 10-year measure — is too expensive and overreaching.
“The national government is strutting around like a bully,” said Rep. Cynthia Davis, a Republican from O’Fallon, likening the federal bill to a destructive flooded river.
Rep. Brian Nieves, a Republican from Washington, said the constitutional amendment was about “drawing a line in the sand” against federal officials pushing policies on the states.
“We’re standing up, we recognize the line, we’re drawing the line and no further,” said Nieves, adding that he would relish a “face-off” with Congress.
The federal legislation — which could face a defining vote in Congress this week — would require most Americans to buy health insurance, fine most who fail to do so and provide subsidies to help middle-income earners and the working poor afford it. President Barack Obama last week pitched the health care plan during a rally in suburban St. Louis.
But lawmakers in several states have already approved measures voicing objections. In Missouri, the House voted 109-46 on Tuesday to send its constitutional amendment to the Senate and joined five other states with similar measures approved by at least one chamber. If the Missouri plan clears the state Senate, it could appear on the November ballot.
Similar amendments or bills that reject federal health insurance mandates have been filed in 33 states, and lawmakers in four other states have said they plan to file measures, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council. The Washington-based nonprofit group promotes limited government and is helping coordinate the state efforts.
Virginia already has enacted its measure into law, and Idaho’s governor is considering whether to sign or veto that state’s version, according to the council. The Arizona Legislature has approved a constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot, and similar measures have cleared one chamber in Oklahoma and Tennessee.
The Missouri House earlier this year condemned the federal health care overhaul in a nonbinding resolution.
On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Paul LeVota questioned whether Missouri should be challenging efforts by Congress to react to what federal officials believe is a national issue. Likening the issue to debates decades ago over Civil Rights, LeVota said that sometimes the federal government needs to force reluctant states to take action.
“This could be one of those (situations), and tampering with our own constitution is not good,” said LeVota, a Democrat from Independence.