The Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee on Thursday cast a critical vote to protect the people of Maine from the gathering storm of the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
For weeks, behind the scenes, Republican leadership in Augusta has struggled with the question of the so-called Obamacare “exchanges.” A critical component of the federal takeover of the health insurance industry, the “exchanges” are the deceptively named mechanisms for enforcing the individual mandate provision of Obamacare.
Obamacare propagandists harnessed the term “exchange” to conjure up images of a robust marketplace where insurers and insured can find each other and dance away into a fully insured wonderland. In reality, exchanges as implemented by Obamacare inject more government control and prevent actual market forces from putting downward pressure on insurance rates. In effect, the Obamacare exchanges amount to a wholesale replacement of the private health insurance market, run by bureaucrats, and created to ensure the ability of the federal government to do what it is constitutionally prevented from doing – force every American to purchase an insurance policy.
Once exchanges are set up according to the Obamacare framework, we step closer to the point where individuals and businesses will no longer be able to transact business without the government’s direct involvement. And once the exchange is set up, no Mainer, absent the government’s blessing, will be allowed to opt out of purchasing an insurance plan.
The Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in the case against the individual mandate in the coming weeks. Maine’s Attorney General Bill Schneider has joined in the lawsuit to prevent this overreach of federal power. Schneider was elected Attorney General by the Republican-controlled legislature in part because of his pledge to fight Obamacare—a pledge his opponent was apparently less willing to take. Schneider deserves a tremendous amount of credit for his resolute stand against this law, especially in light of criticism from both the Maine press and political opponents.
If, as many legal scholars predict, the court rejects the ability of the federal government to force citizens to purchase a product (insurance), the entire Affordable Care Act may be at stake as well. There is a corollary debate happening in the courts over the “severability” of the individual mandate from the rest of Obamacare. Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the position that, if the individual mandate is ruled constitutional, Obamacare in its entirety should be thrown out. Maine’s Senators should be commended for their leadership, as well as for supporting this position.
The Obama administration, and many pro-Obamacare Democrats in Augusta, have been involved in an effort to influence the Supreme Court’s decision on these matters by creating a sense of inevitability around Obamacare. Lower court rulings in support of the law have cited the implementation of state-based exchanges as rationale for allowing the law to stand. The strategic theory for Team Obamacare is simple: the more states implement exchanges, the more the law becomes a fait accompli, the less likely the Supreme Court is to throw it out.
The Obama administration has used the carrot-and-stick approach to coerce states into prematurely turning their private health insurance markets over to the federal government. First, they have offered millions of dollars in grant money to the states to help create the exchanges. Second, they have pushed a number of red herring arguments about the dangers of not implementing a state-based exchange.
Exchange advocates have argued that, if Maine doesn’t implement an exchange, the federal government will come in and do it for them. This is a ridiculous argument from almost every angle.
First, Obamacare has given the federal government complete control of the exchanges through the Secretary of Health and Human Services. There is no ability for the State of Maine, or any other state, to protect itself from the crushing burdens of Obamacare through an autonomous exchange: what the feds want, they will get.
Second, though Obamacare gives the federal government jurisdiction over the exchanges, the authors of the law made a critical mistake. They created funding mechanisms for state-based exchanges, but they didn’t create a funding mechanism for federal exchanges. This means if Maine doesn’t create an exchange, there is little threat of a federal takeover because there is no money available to the federal government to do it.
In order to correct this, the administration will need to bring the law back to Congress, a move that would undoubtedly cause further delays and problems for the implementation of exchanges or any other aspect of Obamacare.
As Republican leadership in Augusta began to dig deeper into the reality of exchanges, their proper course of action became clear. Maine’s Governor and Attorney General have taken a strong stand against the constitutionality of Obamacare. Maine’s U.S Senate delegation has joined the argument against the severability of the individual mandates from the rest of the law.
Now the legislature has stood up against Obamacare by refusing to implement what they believe is an unconstitutional law. And they have refused to be party to an effort to influence the courts by acquiescing to a federal mandate.
New leadership in Augusta has done some amazing things since the power-shift in 2010. From tax cuts to regulatory reform and from health insurance reform to pension reform, the state is moving in a very positive direction.
But of all the actions the new leadership team has taken, none is more critical to the protection of our state’s future than this bold and united defense against Obamacare. The majority members of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee, along with the governor, attorney general and Senators Snowe and Collins, should be commended.