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Politics

Court ruling takes teeth out of proposed health care amendment

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 03:29 PM

 It's been surprisingly quiet around the state regarding Amendment 1, a constitutional proposal to block the controversial insurance mandate in the federal health care law.

From the presidential race on down, politicians have been predictably strident about this hot-button issue. But it's hard to find yard signs, advertisements or campaign literature about this amendment, which, as conceived, would prevent Florid-ians or their employers from being required to get health insurance.

Both proponents and critics have decided to put their campaign money and energy elsewhere, since a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June renders the Florida amendment moot.

Instead, groups are quietly urging a yes or no vote in election guides and with a handful of guest columns in Florida media.

"It basically will be on the books, and that's it," Rachel Morgan, senior policy specialist for the national Conference of State Legislatures, said of the Amendment 1 vote.

But the quiet debate doesn't mean the amendment has lost its political urgency, said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a health care advocacy group that is against Amendment 1.

A "yes" vote could be used politically by legislative leaders, Goodhue said. Those vying to repeal the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or file new lawsuits could use it as ammunition, she said.

"We're concerned because the state has really tried everything they can do in their power to see that residents don't see the benefits of the Affordable Care Act," Goodhue said of the ballot issue, which needs a 60 percent "yes" vote to be added to the Florida Constitution.

Florida's Republican-dominated Legislature approved putting the amendment on the ballot in 2011, more than a year before the Supreme Court said the federal government can legally penalize or tax residents who choose not to get health insurance.

Florida's Legislature is among 47 that have filed proposals to limit, change or reject health care reform since 2008, said Richard Cauchi, health program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona led the charge.

"People who were opposed to the general ideas of the Affordable Care Act saw the Arizona bill and said, 'Let's replicate that,' " Cauchi said.

So far, 16 states have approved statutes or put constitutional amendments on their ballots, Cauchi said.

And Florida isn't the only state voting on the issue next month; Alabama and Wyoming voters have similar constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, Florida legislators and Gov. Rick Scott have continued to voice opposition to the federal law they derisively refer to as Obamacare. Scott has said he will not expand Medicaid coverage in Florida, as the federal law suggests. He also rejects recommendations to create a statewide marketplace for health insurance, called an exchange.

It's not clear how strongly the amendment's sponsors feel about the ballot question. Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Rep. Scott Plakon, did not respond to interview requests, but they are quietly voicing support for Amendment 1.

Other supporters, such as the conservative James Madison Institute, maintain the federal law is a "blatant assault on health care freedom."

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, which backs a "yes" vote, doesn't go that far. The group's support is limited to one sentence in the Chamber's elections guide. The Tallahassee-based group is not investing money in supporting Amendment 1, spokeswoman Edie Ousley said.

Though a "yes" vote could be meaningless now, supporters say the potential of a federal repeal could make the amendment relevant in the future. Policy analysts also say a "yes" vote could be used to keep state employees or agencies from enforcing the health care law.

Opponents, such as the state's League of Women Voters and the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, agree that the amendment could trigger new political battles and costly lawsuits.

"This amendment is a waste of time and taxpayer money," Progressive Caucus President Susan Smith wrote in an opinion piece for the Sunshine State News, an online political new service that provides perspectives from both major parties.

Morgan, the federal health policy analyst, said voters will be the final ones deciding how important Amendment 1 will be in the ongoing discussion of health reform.

"This may be to a lot of people in Florida about making a statement," she said.


mshedden@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7365 Twitter: @maryshedden

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