The Senate Judiciary II Committee held a hearing to discuss HB2, the Protect Healthcare Freedom Act. Rep. Barnhart (R-Cabarrus) and Rep. Stam (R-Wake) began by explaining the bill. Its two primary provisions include prohibiting the individual mandate as applied to North Carolinians and allowing the Attorney General to join 28 other states in filing a lawsuit to challenge the individual mandate. Furthermore, there was a provision added that ensures that any costs associated with filing a lawsuit comes from the Attorney General’s existing budget.
Both sides were allowed to make their points. Rep. Hollo (R-Alexander), a physician’s assistant, asked whether it was right to force people to buy a product they don’t necessarily want or choose not to have. Rep. Stam, referring to the paternalistic nature of the federal bill added, “Are we children or citizens?”
Sen. Doug Berger (D-Franklin) asked several questions. He raised concerns about cost increases if people are not mandated to carry coverage (spread the risk of loss). Rep. Barnhart addressed his comments by agreeing that we need to drive down costs but forcing people to carry coverage is not the right way to do it. Sen. McKissick (D-Durham) also addressed costs concerns. Rep. Stam countered that NC could actually save $1.1 billion on Medicaid by not forcing our citizens to purchase health insurance due to the increased participants in Medicaid under a mandated program.
The federal government will cover the majority of the increased costs for the first 3 years but after that, states will be left with the heavy financial burden of covering much of the additional Medicaid participants’ costs.
As for costs associated with filing a lawsuit, the amount should be limited, with an estimated maximum of $100,000 if North Carolinians decide to challenge the individual mandate under a class action lawsuit. If NC chooses to join Florida’s lawsuit, the costs could be as low as 44 cents to mail the letter and as high as $5,000, the voluntary maximum amount Florida requests from co-plaintiff states.
Other arguments discussed turned on how the federal insurance mandate is different than Medicare or auto insurance. The distinction can be described in three words – “Because we breath.” Medicare applies only to those who have worked and only to individuals over the age of 65. Auto insurance applies only to drivers – no one has to drive a car. The individual mandate applies to everyone who is living simply because they exist in the world and draw breath.
This debate is sure to continue into the future, both on the state and national level. A vote on H2 is not expected in the Senate Judiciary Committee until Thursday.