As they await next year’s likely Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” states continue to grapple with its odious expenses as they decide whether to accept federal money for health care insurance exchanges so long as the law’s constitutionality remains in doubt.
As this chart from ALEC shows, a vast majority of states from California to Maine have passed measures to reject aspects of the new health care law. And because this month, the Department of Justice filed petitions for certiorari, asking for a final review by the Supreme Court in HHS v. Florida, the last citizens’ initiative to be voted on before oral arguments at the Supreme Court begin is on Ohio’s November 2011 ballot.
Polling shows that while Ohio voters are eager to reject (via the Issue 2 initiative) Gov. John Kasich’s strict anti-collective bargaining laws for public employees, there is bipartisan support for Issue 3, which would create a new amendment in Ohio’s constitution explicitly prohibiting the federal or state government from mandating citizens’ participation in private health care systems.
The mixed polling results may explain why Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who endorsed both issues in June, came to Ohio to speak at a call-center for Republicans, only to refuse to endorse them. However, more than 24 hours later, Romney has backtracked again and endorsed both issues. He said he is “110%” behind both issues and he apologized for the confusion. However, a Lexis-Nexis search reveals Romney in 2006 campaigned in Ohio in support of Massachusetts-style health insurance mandates.
Issue 3, originally sponsored by local Tea Party groups and the Ohio Liberty Council, saw more than 27,000 volunteers join in the largest, truly grassroots ballot initiative in the state, and perhaps the country. Jeff Longstreth, campaign manager for Issue 3, notes that less than $50,000 was spent on collecting the first 441,000 signatures, with an overwhelming 90 percent validity rate.
As the federal law trumps state authority, Longsreth is quick to say the “first priority is to prohibit a forced insurance program on the state level.” But he adds, “The individual mandate is unconstitutional. We believe our ballot initiative adds strength to that argument. And because it was a citizen driven initiative, it will send a clear message to anyone in the federal level that forcing citizens to buy products from private insurance companies is wrong.”
The opposition to Issue 3 is led by Innovation Ohio, a union-funded think tank run by former staffers of former Gov. Ted Strickland. Its communications director, Dale Butland, a former press secretary for Sen. John Glenn, believes the problem with Issue 3 is how broadly it defines a “health care system.” He asks, “If no one can be required to be in a health care system, how can deadbeat parents be forced to buy health care for their children? Or how could [the] Ohio State University require students to buy health insurance?” Butland also believes that under the initiative’s strict wording, Ohioans could not be forced to pay for Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MRDD) levies and the legislature would be unable to rework the state’s scandal-ridden workers’ compensation system.
Issue 3 backers are quick to refute these points, noting that child support orders are already binding on both parties and are part of preexisting law. Also, universities can still mandate health insurance coverage because attending them is voluntary and as such a far cry from forcing citizens to purchase health insurance simply because they are alive. Also, as a matter of state law, levies to provide health services for the less fortunate do not require anyone to join a health system any more than the taxes that pay for roads compel a taxpayer to drive on them.
Ohio, as a depressed manufacturing state, has a majority of voters in favor of collective bargaining rights. So expect Issue 3 to pass on November 8. However, with turnout expected to be low and a month of early voting, the fate of Issue 2 is still up in the air. It will probably come down to which side is better organized. Win or lose, the outcome will be reverberate nationwide, as the contentious issue of mandated care moves to the Supreme Court.