Utah Legislature: House approves bill to keep feds out of Utah health reform

Published: Friday, Feb. 12 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Rep. Carl Wimmer, left, avoids eye contact with Rep. Phil Riesen during debate on HB67over health care reform.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would prevent any federal health care reforms — should Congress approve any — from taking effect in Utah without approval of the Legislature and the governor passed 53-20 Thursday in the Utah House.

HB67 was debated for more than 20 minutes and survived one attempted amendment, a motion to substitute and prognostications that it could induce unintended harm to the 340,000 Utahns who don't have insurance as well as ultimately undermining the state Constitution.

Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, said his bill is a necessary barrier against a wave of health care reform mandates about to come from Washington, noting that the reforms may be in limbo but they have certainly not gone away.

Congressional reforms aren't a matter of if but when Wimmer has said repeatedly, noting that having a Democratic majority and president gives the issue both expediency and momentum that won't keep reform legislation high-centered much longer.

Whatever is passed in Congress, he told fellow House members Thursday, "stops with us, the Legislature. We are the stopgap for the people of this state. The citizens elected us to represent them."

Democrats and at least one Republican countered during floor debate that not only is HB67 a sky-is-falling response to federal reforms, it is premature, will likely be proved unconstitutional and will have an immediate real-life effect on the state's neediest Utahns on Medicaid, which is already looking at $15 million possible cuts in 2011.

Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, said he is put off by the bill because it puts too many variables in play, not the least of which are questions it raises about the state's separation of powers.

Noting that the bill has the longest legal cautions from the Legislature's lawyers that he has seen in nine years as a legislator, he said the bill could be a de facto violation of the Utah Constitution because it imposes legislative review of a matter that normally belongs under the purview of the governor's office.

Like most House members, Mascaro said he favors keeping the federal government out of Utahns' lives, but has "no interest in harming the separation of powers" under the Constitution that "I hold inviolate and dear to my heart."

Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Salt Lake, asked Wimmer if he is concerned about possible "unintended consequences" that would likely ripple through programs for the poor and disabled, "those who can least afford those cuts," if the state were to lose the $4 –to- $1 federal funding match that might occur by taking a hard-line stance on reform. That possibility threatens "the lives of the people who can least afford those cuts," Riesen said.

Wimmer agreed that the federal government could out of "pettiness" retaliate by withholding matching Medicaid funds. In addition, he said reform efforts in Washington have the "intended consequence" of removing medical care choices from individuals and physicians and putting it in the hands of Democrats who have more seats and more political weight to throw around than the party has had in 30 years.

See the bill at le.utah.gov/~2010/htmdoc/hbillhtm/HB0067S01.htm.

e-mail: jthalman@desnews.com

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