Kan. House approves health care amendment

TOPEKA — The Health Care Freedom Amendment is halfway to the ballot.

The proposed state constitutional amendment is designed to prevent the federal government from mandating that individuals buy health insurance, a requirement of the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and President Obama last year.

The Kansas House was widely expected to approve the measure, which passed the 125-member body Thursday by a vote of 93-26.

Most proponents of the bill argued that the measure would uphold states' rights under the federal Constitution.

Freshman Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, carried the measure on the House floor. He said it would "preserve the right and freedom of Kansans to provide for their own health care."

He said the federal government had exceeded its authority and that the state amendment is "nothing less than a referendum on the continued viability of the 10th Amendment."

Other proponents acknowledged the opposition's arguments that a state amendment could not trump federal law, but they said it still sends a message of opposition.

Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, a lawyer and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, conceded that the amendment would not "automatically opt us out of Obamacare" and Kansas will have to comply with decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.

"But that doesn't mean what we're doing is futile in any sense," he said, adding that it's valuable to assert the state's right to limit federal authority.

Opponents argued that the measure is dishonest with Kansas voters because it implies their votes can shield them from penalties if they don't obtain insurance.

"You're going to tell people that if they vote for it, they're going to be protected," said Rep. Ed. Trimmer, D-Winfield. "We can't nullify federal law with the state Constitution.... I think we're misleading people."

Proponents of the bill positioned themselves as defenders of the values of the nation's founding fathers, citing quotations from the Federalist Papers.

Opponents tried to paint the bill's backers as more like the founding fathers of the Confederacy, who also cited states' rights and the 10th Amendment as their justification to leave the union.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, defended the Affordable Care Act, citing more popular portions of the legislation, such as its ban on using pre-existing conditions to deny coverage and allowing parents to keep their children on their insurance to the age of 26.

She predicted the system it sets up will one day be as accepted as Social Security, which was highly controversial when it was first passed.

"We've always had to fight for something that's new and challenging," she said.

For the amendment to become a part of the state Constitution, both the House and Senate must pass it by a two-thirds margin, followed by a majority vote of the electorate in the 2012 election.