Panel rejects Republican-backed health care resolution

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AUGUSTA — Top lawmakers voted along partisan lines Thursday to reject a pair of measures aimed at pushing back against recently enacted federal health care reform.

State Reps. Michael Thibodeau of Winterport and Andre E. Cushing III of Hampden, both Republicans, sought Legislative Council approval for two proposals prompted by the individual mandate to purchase health insurance by 2014, a requirement of the new health law.

Because they filed after deadline, the measures needed approval from the council, which is made up of House and Senate leaders and includes six Democrats and four Republicans.

Thibodeau sought to amend the Maine Constitution to ensure Mainers could pay for their health care directly, rather than being forced to purchase health insurance.

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“It would protect Maine citizens’ right to pay for health care services and doctors’ right to receive direct compensation from their patients,” Thibodeau told the council.

Cushing sought approval for a joint resolution asking Maine Attorney General Janet Mills to join at least 13 other state attorneys general in a recently initiated lawsuit that claims the new law is unconstitutional. The lawsuit suggests that the federal government does not have the authority to compel citizens to purchase health insurance if they do not want to or to levy fines against those who don’t.

For Cushing, the underlying issue was his perceived encroachment of the federal government on states’ rights.

“I believe that many citizens in our state have concerns, whether they supported the legislation that has passed or not; they have some concerns over the speed at which we have nationalized certain aspects of our government in recent years,” he said.

Of the attorneys general pursuing the lawsuit, all but one are Republicans. The Democrat, James Caldwell of Louisiana, joined the suit because he was asked to by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, he told the Associated Press. Of the Republicans, at least three are running for governor, one for U.S. Senate and four are running for re-election.

Mills, a Democrat, has said she believes the case is without merit.

Senate President Libby Mitchell, a Democrat running for governor, said Mills’ opinion was good enough for her.

“Your attorney general, who looked at the law books, who looked at not whether or not you like health care reform as presented, but looked at the law, says there’s no merit to the case. That’s the lawyer we’ve hired,” Mitchell said.

Information distributed by the White House points out that similar lawsuits filed after the enactment of Social Security and Medicare, which compel Americans to pay into a national system, found the programs to be constitutional and within the federal government’s authority.

rmetzler@sunjournal.com

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