Okla. Voters to Consider Ballot Measure Aimed at Thwarting Health Care Reform Law

August 23, 2010
Oklahoma voters will consider a ballot initiative in November, SQ 756, that challenges the recently enacted health care reform law. Although the Affordable Care Act will not take effect until 2014, the Oklahoma measure allows voters to decide whether the state will participate in the new law. A shared responsibility provision of the law requires individuals to purchase health care insurance or pay a fee. Several state attorneys general have launched lawsuits against that provision of the law and have been roundly criticized for doing so by constitutional law experts.

In a guest blog for the OK Policy Blog, Ryan Kiesel, a state representative in Oklahoma, maintains that the ballot measure is fundamentally flawed because the legal questions surrounding the health care reform law are settled. He writes, "While the politics of health care reform are still evolving, the legal issues raised by health care reform have long been settled, and barring a sweeping dismissal of precedent by an activist court, we already know the outcome of state-based challenges."

Kiesel notes that the arguments against the law center on challenging Congress' authority pursuant to the commerce clause, its power to tax and spend and the supposed ability of states to "opt out" of federal laws. But, those arguments have all been tested in the federal courts already, he writes. "Should the Supreme Court adopt the argument the Congress overstepped its powers, it would be a monumental reversal of precedent, jeopardizing not only the health care bill, but also other federal laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which were also passed under Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce."

Okla. Voters are not alone in considering measures aimed at thwarting the federal health care law. Missouri primary voters recently supported a similar measure. Simon Lazarus, public policy counsel for National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC) and author of an ACS Issue Brief on the constitutionality of the shared responsibility provision of the health care reform law, noted that such ballot measures likely will mean very little. "If federal courts decide it is unconstitutional, then laws like this one will be superfluous. It has no real legal consequences. It's symbolic," he said.