State Resistance to Federal Healthcare: Three States Renounce Federal Requirements

In the wake of the newly passed federal healthcare bill, some states have resisted abiding by its terms. The federal law reforms healthcare in the U.S. and requires most individuals to have health insurance. Minutes after the bill was signed into law, 20 states (represented by their attorneys general or governors) filed suit against it arguing that Congress was acting beyond its powers in requiring individuals to purchase insurance, and that the law violated state sovereignty.

In the November 2010 election, voters in three states used the ballot box to voice their displeasure with healthcare reform. Constitutional amendments were approved in both Arizona and Oklahoma expressly exempting those states from the federal healthcare requirements. Meanwhile, a Missouri statute to the same effect was approved by voters there. Colorado also had a constitutional amendment on the ballot, but it failed.

The Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma measures all essentially maintain that individuals would not be required to purchase private health insurance. Since this is in direct opposition to the federal law, it is unlikely that these state measures will have any practical effect. According to the Constitution, when a federal law is passed, it is “supreme” over state laws that contradict it. This means that as long as the federal law is held to be constitutional, a contradictory state law will probably be found to be unconstitutional.

Some question does remain, though, as to whether the federal law might be unconstitutional. A Michigan judge recently threw out a lawsuit against the federal law, but a federal judge in Florida has allowed the suit by the 20 states to go forward. The judge will hear arguments on whether it is constitutional for the federal government to require individuals to buy private health insurance, and whether this violates states’ sovereignty.

In the meantime, the new laws in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma are a symbolic stand against federally mandated healthcare, but unless the federal healthcare law is struck down in the courts as unconstitutional, the symbolism is unlikely to turn into anything concrete.