TALLAHASSEE — Hours after congressional Democrats passed a major health-reform bill, Republicans in Florida’s capital opened a broad assault Monday to dismantle the legislation at the ballot box and the courts.
At issue: the legislation’s so-called “individual mandate” that requires most people to buy insurance or face fines.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican running for governor, started Monday morning with a promise to join nine other Republican attorneys general from other states to sue over the mandate. Later in the day, Republicans in a House committee passed legislation urging him to sue as soon as President Barack Obama signs the bill into law, which could happen today.
And in yet another committee Monday, House lawmakers passed a proposed state constitutional amendment, which would need voter approval, to stop the government from directly or indirectly compelling anyone in Florida to buy health insurance.
Called the Florida Health Care Freedom Act, the proposal passed the Health Care Regulation Policy Committee on a 10-3 party-line vote. Republican sponsor Scott Plakon of Longwood said the proposed amendment was designed to stop federal overreach.
“These individual mandates should be offensive to all people who love liberty,” Plakon said. “They are anti-freedom, anti-liberty and very likely unconstitutional.”
“What I find offensive is not having access to care. It’s not being able to afford care,” Rep. Yolly Roberson, D.-Miami said. “What I find offensive, as a nurse, is knowing that 20 percent of our population does not have access to care.”
But can Congress require a person to buy a private product — health insurance — in the name of the public good and the Commerce Clause?
McCollum says no. States mandate that people purchase car insurance, but McCollum says that’s different, because it’s a requirement made at the state level for a voluntary activity — driving. McCollum said other court cases over the Commerce Clause regulated a person’s activity — whether it’s growing marijuana or wheat. The individual insurance mandate concerns a person’s inactivity — that is, a desire not to buy insurance.
“This is a tax or a penalty on just living. And that’s unconstitutional,” McCollum said in a news conference Monday morning. “There is no provision in the Constitution of the United States giving Congress the power to do that. So it’s the absence of authority that is unconstitutional.”
McCollum and Plakon argue that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limits Congress. Democrats point out that the Constitution also doesn’t explicitly call for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or a national bank, all of which were passed by Congress and ultimately blessed by the Supreme Court.
The U.S. Constitution also contains a “Supremacy Clause’’ that largely allows federal laws to trump state statutes. So even if Plakon’s state constitutional amendment is approved by voters, it might not do anything.
McCollum said he might also challenge another mandate in the health bill: the expansion of Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor already serving 14 percent of Florida’s population. Under preliminary state estimates, the new law could cause Florida’s Medicaid population to grow by about 1.5 million people and cost state taxpayers more than $700 million in 2016.