Missouri Voters Reject Federal Health Mandate

fromKWMU

Missouri's primary voters on Tuesday rejected a federal mandate requiring people to have health insurance. But are they free to opt out? Marshall Griffin of St. Louis Public Radio reports on what it means.

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Voters in Missouri are the first in the nation to get a say on the new federal health care law and they said, no, thank you.

During party primaries yesterday, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition C, a measure designed to block the state's participation in the landmark health care law that President Obama signed earlier this year.

Marshall Griffin from St. Louis Public Radio reports.

MARSHALL GRIFFIN: Proposition C, simply put, forbids the federal government from requiring citizens to have health insurance or from penalizing them if they don't. It passed with 71 percent of the vote. The proposition opposing what Republicans call Obamacare was crafted by GOP State Senator Jane Cunningham from St. Louis County.

State Senator JANE CUNNINGHAM (Republican, Missouri): It is unprecedented in the United States of America for a government to say just because you live in this land and you breathe in this land, you will buy a product, any product, with your own money against your will. That has never before happened in America.

GRIFFIN: Missouri lawmakers this year considered several bills addressing federal legislation in Washington, including one that opposed cap and trade, but the only national issue to make it onto the ballot was health care. Most of the 939,000 primary voters opposed a key provision. They include Shannon Casmire(ph) of Jefferson City.

Mr. SHANNON CASMIRE: I do not believe that our federal government needs to mandate what all of us already have in the insurance field.

GRIFFIN: Liz Beasley(ph) of Jefferson City agrees.

Ms. LIZ BEASLEY: I just feel like the health care issue is an important issue, but there's some problems with that bill, and there needs to be some revisions. And I think that it would hurt small businesses.

GRIFFIN: But some Missouri voters approve of the new federal health care law. Among them is John Ditto(ph) of Kansas City who voted no.

Mr. JOHN DITTO: Well, I thought it was a really quasi anti-Obama issue, and I believe that it would be thrown out of court anyway because it would supersede the federal government, and so it has no meaning.

GRIFFIN: And that's what opponents to Proposition C are counting on. There was little organized opposition to the referendum, and a lawsuit to remove it from the ballot was dismissed without appeal. Richard Reuben is a law professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He believes Missouri's effort to opt out of the federal health care law will initially be struck down.

Professor RICHARD REUBEN (University of Missouri School of Law): This should be a no-brainer for the courts. Under the supremacy clause of the Constitution, a state statute that is in direct conflict with a federal statute is simply invalid.

GRIFFIN: But Reuben also says Proposition C's navigation through the federal court system can go either way.

Mr. REUBEN: Liberal judges, conservative judges can certainly view things differently, and both sides will have a lot invested in the progress of this case. So I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it get to the U.S. Supreme Court. If it does, I think all bets are off.

GRIFFIN: Meanwhile, opponents to Proposition C say the vote does not reflect the feelings of most Missourians, citing the 23 percent voter turnout for Tuesday's party primaries.

Marvin Overby, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, disagrees.

Professor MARVIN OVERBY (Political Science, University of Missouri-Columbia): That number may not appear very high, but if you compare it to sort of recent primary elections in the state going back to 2008 or 2006, it's actually up a bit.

GRIFFIN: But Overby adds that most of those coming out to vote were Republicans, and that the vote would be closer if it had been scheduled for November instead of August.

For NPR News, I'm Marshall Griffin in Jefferson City, Missouri.

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