PROVIDENCE – A group of freshmen GOP lawmakers, led by Rep. Dan Gordon of Portsmouth in the House and Cumberland Sen. Bethany Moura in the Senate, are introducing legislation to defy the federal Obamacare mandate that everyone buy health insurance.
“This is a simple bill,” Gordon told a Statehouse press conference Thursday. “It’s three sentences long, in simple language, simply asserting our right as citizens under the constitution to refrain from purchasing a product from private industry under pains of penalty mandated by the federal government -- no more, no less.
“I certainly do agree that there is need for healthcare reform,” Gordon said, “but what I would suggest is that we look toward cost and the implementation of a healthcare exchange as the Senate president and the lieutenant governor are looking at and working on implementing.”
Noting that a federal judge in Florida recently ruled the law unconstitutional, Gordon said, “I would suggest that we don’t waste time in following the letter of that law at this time.”
Under questioning, Gordon later conceded that while federal judges in Florida and Virginia have said the law is unconstitutional, two federal judges in other jurisdictions have ruled it constitutional. He said the matter will likely be decided by a U.S. Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.
He also acknowledged that, if passed, his bill amounts to nullification, a legal theory, not upheld by the courts, that a state has the right to disregard a federal law that it deems unconstitutional.
It is up to the attorney general, Gordon said, to enforce the laws passed by the General Assembly.
Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, said Kilmartin has not had time to review Gordon’s bill, but added that the attorney general supports the federal healthcare law and believes it will be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gordon quoted Congressman Davy Crockett, who said in the mid-1800s that, “It is a precedent fraught with danger for the country, for when the Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. The constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred and rigidly observed in all its provisions.”
Moura, who represents parts of Cumberland and Lincoln, said “any piece of legislation or mandate that is going to create the need for an additional 18,000 IRS agents is probably not a good thing for the people,” citing a statistic sometimes used by opponents of the federal healthcare law known as Obamacare.
“There are people right now in our state who can’t afford to keep their electricity on, can’t afford to put oil in their tanks for heat in the winter,” she added. “Any financial mandate on people at a time when unemployment is at its highest, and we have roofs collapsing and people are struggling to work, I just think it shows a disconnect between the Congress that voted for this bill and the people who won’t be able to meet this mandate.”
Moura told The Times that she opposed the healthcare bill when it was making its way through the Congress last year. “We’ve already got socialized medicine with Medicare. We see it in the V.A. (Veterans Administration) hospitals. We see government healthcare and it doesn’t have the greatest reputation.”
Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, appointed by Gov. Lincoln Chafee through an executive order to chair the RI Healthcare Reform Commission, said in a written statement Thursday, “We will be assessing all legislation introduced on the issue of health reform in an effort to do what’s best for all Rhode Islanders. “However, the governor and I agree that successful health reform depends on every Rhode Islander having health insurance."
Sen. Teresa Paiva Weed, who has introduced the legislation to create health care exchanges in Rhode Island as envisioned in the federal bill, said, “I think it is important that we as a state help to implement reform. My focus is and continues to be ensuring that health insurance is available and affordable for as many members of the public as possible.”
Rep. Michael Chippendale of Foster, Glocester and Coventry, who walks with a cane, said that “as a disabled Rhode Islander, I perhaps have a perspective on the health care situation in this country that those of you may not and hopefully don’t ever have to know.
“We are talking about the freedom to choose or not to choose,” Chippendale said. “The system we have right now allows me to choose to see the best doctors at the muscular dystrophy clinic here in Rhode Island, the best doctors in the transplant unit at the Lahey Clinic and the best diagnostic doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“So when I feel that choice is going to be imposed, I have to follow it to its logical conclusion and extend it to the point where choice will then be narrowed and I might lose my choice to seek those very doctors who are literally enabling me to stand before you today.”
Kate Brock, executive director of Ocean State Action, said after the event that, “this is, unfortunately, one of many attacks on the federal healthcare bill.
She said the individual mandate to buy insurance in the Obamacare law “is about individual responsibility and making sure everyone pays their fair share. Providing healthcare to the uninsured leads to increased premium costs for all of us. Requiring everyone to have health insurance is the only way the system works.”