Pennsylvania Moves to Outlaw Health Insurance Mandate

The Pennsylvania Senate is poised to vote on a measure drafted by Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, a Republican, that would amend the state’s constitution, making it illegal for anyone in Pennsylvania to be forced to obtain health insurance or to be fined for failing to do so.

The move is a direct effort to circumvent the personal mandate requirement of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a clause currently set to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. If found to be constitutional, the mandate would take effect in 2014.

For the amendment to pass in Pennsylvania, it must be approved in two back-to-back legislative sessions and then be subject to a state-wide referendum. If the bill is approved in 2012, it could go up for a second vote after the legislature’s new session begins in January, and be on the ballot for the consideration of the citizenry in May 2013.

In speaking with reporters, Scarnati said, “I’m not doing this to debate Obamacare; that’s not really the issue. What this is really about is giving Pennsylvanians the ability to go to the polls and vote how they feel about being mandated by the federal government on this issue. I think that will be a very clear, clear message to the administration, to Congress and to the courts.”

There is a similar measure before the Pennsylvania House put forth by Rep. Matt Baker that would prohibit mandatory health insurance thorough a state law rather than a constitutional amendment. Leaders in both houses have said it will be necessary to meet and decide which approach stands the greatest chance of succeeding.

Health advocates oppose both moves, saying the prohibition would elevate health care costs and limit the choices available to state residents. The personal mandate has become a major point of debate in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election, with conservative Republicans and Tea Party adherents calling for the abolition of “Obamacare.”

Another key provision of the Affordable Care Act is the establishment of health insurance exchanges to create a competitive market for consumers and small businesses. Few states have made any concrete progress in establishing the exchanges, however, with many openly admitting they are awaiting the outcome of the election.