In our opinion: Pushing back against feds

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 12 2009 12:09 a.m. MDT

There is much to commend in the idea being floated by Utah Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, that the state ought to opt out of whatever health plan Congress and the Obama administration put together in Washington. Utah lawmakers have been busy at work, putting together their own version of health-care reform tailored to Utah's specific needs. Even if former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has been getting a lion's share of national attention and credit for this, it truly is a cooperative effort.

Members of Congress are not endowed with any special skills or gifts that make them more qualified to do this than Utah's politicians. In fact, they are being tugged and pulled by a variety of special interests that may not hold as much sway in Utah. And besides, all but three members of the House and two of the Senate have no idea what Utahns want or need.

And yet we worry a bit about the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment Wimmer plans to present to the 2010 Legislature.

Wimmer's idea, widely reported by news outlets recently, is to amend the state constitution so people in Utah cannot be forced by the federal government into buying health insurance, and that small businesses also won't be forced to provide insurance for their employees. That wording has us concerned because Utah itself may want to require exactly that. Even in Utah, health-care costs are being driven in part by a growing uninsured population that pushes costs onto everyone else. The state, after all, requires all Utahns to purchase automobile insurance for the very reason that it protects people against higher costs. Requiring health insurance is at least worthy of serious discussion.

And while prohibiting Washington from requiring Utahns to be insured does not prohibit the state from doing the same thing, it does indicate that Utahns don't approve of such methods. A better idea would be to simply prohibit Washington from forcing health reforms on people here.

Utah isn't the only state considering such an amendment. Arizonans already are assured a vote on the matter in 2010.

Utah may well find itself at a disadvantage if it tries to break away from federal health-care reform. It may miss out on federal money. It may face lawsuits and other challenges. These certainly would have to be measured against any advantages. Holding out on principle is one thing, but the well-being of Utahns needs to be the primary concern.

However, a concerted effort by several states would be enough to press the point and force Washington to back away. Utah already is working hard on reform. That hard work should not be summarily pushed aside by people elected in other states.

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