By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND, Ore. – As the state jumps on the Affordable Care Act bandwagon and begins the process of implementing its state health exchange program, some who oppose the new law want their voices of doubt to be heard.
“There is a list of naysayers that don’t believe this is going to work,” state Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, said.
Boquist has introduced legislation that would make enforcement of the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison for federal employees. The bill would make enforcement a misdemeanor, with possible jail time, for state employees. The proposed law, pushed by the Oregon 10th Amendment Center, looks to nullify the act and declare it unconstitutional.
Really? Well, not really.
When asked by Watchdog.org about the chances of the bill’s passage, Boquist admitted he doubts it will gain traction, considering the millions of dollars at stake in Oregon right now and how far along the state is in implementing the law. Still, Boquist said, he hoped to grab attention with the measure.
Oregon’s health exchange program, Cover Oregon, received a $226 million grant over two years from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month. Oregon is one of the first states to set up a health exchange, which is supposed to provide an online comparison shopping tool for consumers of health insurance beginning next year.
“This is a strong vote of confidence from our federal partners,” Gov. John Kitzhaber said in a press release. “The federal grant will help us meet our goal of improving the health of all Oregonians by providing health care coverage options, increasing access to information and fostering quality and value in the health care system. Oregonians will have clear and accurate information when shopping for health care coverage for themselves, their families or their small businesses.”
The state also received $1.9 billion in federal tax money over five years to fill a Medicaid budget hole. In exchange, Oregon must meet quality of care requirements and slow the growth of its Medicaid program.
The 10th Amendment Center, a national activist agency fighting for limited government, is pushing for nullification of Obamacare in the states. It is a response “to a rebellious federal government that refuses to act within its constitutional limits,” center spokesman Mike Maharrey said in a press release.
“Who is really behaving lawlessly here?” he said. “A federal government that refuses to operate within its delegated powers, and rips authority away from the states and the people? Or the states, working through legitimate democratic processes, saying, ‘No! We don’t accept this’?
“I would argue it’s the federal government that’s in rebellion, and it’s time for the states to put a check on illegitimate federal power.”
Boquist said he doesn’t want to see the health exchange program fail but has little confidence all of the promised federal money will come through. He said the state needs a mechanism in place so that Oregon is not reliant on handouts from the feds.
“The government remains to be broke,” he said.
Lisa Morawski, Cover Oregon communications manager, said she could not comment on Boquist’s bill because the agency has not had a chance to look into it. She said Cover Oregon is in the process of implementing the health exchange program and expects to open enrollment in October.
“We’re confident we’ll meet that deadline,” she said.
After the $226 million federal grant is exhausted, the state’s goal is for the exchange to be self-sustaining through fees on insurance carriers based on enrollment in the system, Morawski said. So far 16 insurers have applied to participate.
“We were really pleased with that number,” she said, though the agencies still have to be certified. Cover Oregon will release the rate on insurance carriers in March after holding a public hearing in February.
Boquist is skeptical that the system can carry itself.
“What self-sustaining program does the government have that actually worked?” he asked.