Local/State

NC health care challenge given final OK

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Republican bill that would prompt North Carolina to challenge the 2010 federal health care overhaul won final legislative approval Tuesday and is headed to Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, who seems to want to avoid another standoff with the new GOP majority.

The House voted 69-49 to accept Senate changes to a measure the House approved three weeks ago that seeks to block a provision requiring most people buy health insurance or face a penalty. The measure also directs Attorney General Roy Cooper to defend the challenge or bring an action in court to enforce the challenge if the measure become law.

Two federal judges already have found all or parts of the federal law unconstitutional, while three other judges have upheld the law, including one on Tuesday. The case's final destination is likely to be the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republicans have said the mandate violates the right for individuals to make choices about their health care. North Carolina should enter the litigation, said House Majority Leader Paul Stam said during debate. Twenty-six states already have entered one of the cases, in Florida.

"This is the American way -- to challenge unconstitutional things in court," said Stam, R-Wake. "That's what we're asking him to do. This is not about secession. This is not about nullification."

Perdue said last week she wouldn't sign the bill but also may decline to veto the bill, meaning the measure would become law after 10 days on her desk without her signature. Republicans made passing the bill a part of their fall campaign platform.

"It is difficult to understand why the General Assembly's leadership has chosen this issue as their top priority to push through the Legislature," Perdue said in a statement. "This issue, which is already working its way through the courts, is a distraction from what the people of North Carolina need us to do right now: help create jobs and strengthen education."

The largely party-line vote in both the House and Senate -- two Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the measure Tuesday -- would make a veto difficult to override. House Republicans would probably need a couple more Democrats to defect.

Perdue already entered a confrontation Tuesday by vetoing a Republican bill that directed her to find spending cuts and take other cash to collect funds to help close next year's budget.

Through a spokeswoman, Cooper declined to comment Tuesday. Cooper, a Democrat, said last year he wouldn't enter a lawsuit seeking to overturn the federal law, saying health care was a policy decision that should be decided by elected representatives and not appointed federal judges.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said he's fine for Perdue to let the bill become law and expects Cooper's office will carry out the state law and "concur with our objection" to the federal law.

House Democrats criticized Republicans for trying to push through the challenge so early in the legislative session, saying it was a politically motivated measure that could ultimately harm hundreds of thousands of people who lack insurance or don't have enough.

"You said the election was about jobs," said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange. "It wasn't about jobs, it's about settling old political scores. And this is just one thing you're trying to settle."

The insurance mandate, which begins in 2014, is part of the federal law that also would bar insurers from turning away people with medical conditions the same year, require companies to cover young adults up to age 26 on their parents' policies, and extends coverage to more than 30 million Americans.

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(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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