August 4, 2010 in Nation/World

Missouri tests health reform

Voters approve challenge to health insurance rule
Noam N. Levey Tribune Washington bureau
 

WASHINGTON – Striking a largely symbolic blow at President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, Missouri voters approved a ballot measure Tuesday challenging the new law’s requirement that Americans buy health insurance starting in 2014.

The Missouri proposition, which sought to deny the federal government the authority to penalize people for not getting insurance, is expected to have little practical effect on implementation of the new health care law.

But the Missouri measure represented the first electoral test for the landmark legislation that Obama signed in March. And it underscored continued hostility to the law from Republican voters

Tuesday’s vote was held in conjunction with the state’s Democratic and Republican primaries, but GOP voters were expected to dominate the balloting because their primary included several contests that stirred greater interest.

In November, voters in Oklahoma and Arizona will also consider amendments to their state constitutions that would attempt to head off the insurance mandate.

“There is just a backlash against everything Washington right now,” said C.C. Swarens, executive vice president of the Missouri State Medical Association, which backed the Missouri ballot initiative, known as Proposition C. The group was among several state doctors’ groups that diverged from the American Medical Association, which supported the new federal healthcare law.

Opposition to the new law has remained particularly intense among Republicans, with nearly 8 in 10 saying passage of the new bill was a “bad thing” in a recent national USA Today/Gallup survey.

Public opinion in general remains divided on the new law, with several recent surveys suggesting that support may be inching up even as substantial numbers of Americans still favor repealing all or part of it.

But many health care and legal experts expect that the real challenge to the law will be settled in the courts. GOP officials in 21 states are pursuing a series of legal challenges to the new health care law, arguing that the insurance requirement represents an unconstitutional expansion of federal government power.

One of those lawsuits – by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli – cleared an early hurdle this week when a federal judge denied a move by the Obama administration to have it dismissed.

Supporters of the health care law, including many policy experts, believe a mandate with fines for people who do not comply is vital to preventing healthy people from purchasing insurance only after they get sick, thereby pushing up costs for everyone.

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