By Robert Kittle
South Carolina state lawmakers were talking about wanting to block the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare", long before all the problems with the law began. Now, after the problems with the website and thousands of people finding out they're losing the health insurance they already had, there's more interest in the state House bill.
A special Senate committee held public hearings Tuesday night in Greenville, Wednesday morning in Columbia and Wednesday night in Charleston to get the public's input on the bill, which would block parts of the law. The original House bill would have nullified the Affordable Care Act in the state. But the House changed the bill so it prevents the state from creating a health care exchange (the federal government created one instead), and would give state taxpayers a tax credit if they get a federal fine for not having health insurance.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, it's not clear exactly what the state bill would do if it becomes law. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, chairman of the Senate select committee studying the bill, says, "I think that's one of the things we need to assess. I mean, we need to talk about what is possible under the Affordable Care Act? What can states do? What can states, as sovereign entities, do in the face of a federal law that's been upheld as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court?"
USC law professor Jacqueline Fox says the Supreme Court's ruling settles the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land. But Sen. Davis says, "That doesn't end the inquiry at all. You have to look at the law itself, look at the flexibility it gives to the states, look at the regulations that are being promulgated. Figure out if South Carolinians are being harmed, and, if they are being harmed, how can the state mitigate that harm? And I think those are all open questions."
Some of the speakers at the public hearing in Columbia spoke in favor of the Affordable Care Act. Tim Liszewski is one of the navigators who help people sign up for coverage. "As a navigator, I have seen how the Affordable Care Act is helping people who don't have health care," he says. He says one couple he helped, who have children with pre-existing conditions, are now saving $20,000 a year because of the federal law.
But other speakers pointed to the fact that some people who already had health insurance are now losing it, and will have to pay more under the Affordable Care Act. Dianne Belsom, president of the Laurens County Tea Party, asked senators, "What is the cost to our society when millions of people are losing their health insurance, and then when they're told they must purchase insurance that costs substantially more, with money they don't have, or face paying a fine with money they don't have?"
The Senate Select Committee will give its report to fellow senators in January. The bill is expected to be the second one senators take up when they go back into session.