Illinois and the Politics of ‘ObamaCare
As the country waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the fate of President Obama's health care act, the president's home state has been working to implement it. But some legislators want to hold off. They hope the court will kill the legislation, or that it would be repealed if a Republican is elected president this fall.
While the Supreme Court case has gotten most of the attention, there's been a state-by-state effort to block major parts of the health care law. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, encourages states to set up insurance exchanges -- groups that will pool insurance offerings in an attempt to make them more affordable. But the law does not require states to do this, and that's where conservatives see an opening to weaken the Affordable Care Act.
"Regardless of what you think about the federal health care law, if you support it or oppose it, there are so many unanswered questions, it really doesn't make sense for states to jump into an exchange at this point," said Christie Herrera, director of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nationwide group of conservative state lawmakers.
Herrera has been urging states to reject their role in the Affordable Care Act. Her organization even published a pamphlet: "The State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare."
"I think Illinois still has the opportunity to pull out of the health insurance exchange," Herrera said. "Legislation stalled last fall. Indiana, your neighboring state, is in a similar position where they said we're going to jump in, and now they're having second thoughts. So it's not too late for Illinois to reject the health insurance exchange."
State Rep. JoAnn Osmond (R-Antioch) introduced several measures to prevent Illinois from implementing any part of the law until all the legal challenges are decided. She said there are still too many unknowns -- that the administration has been giving out information in bits and pieces.
"I think that the federal government is having just as many problems as we are on state level trying to figure out what works best, and what's going to help our people and our citizens to have access to health care," Osmond said.
A lot of Republicans say ObamaCare is bad policy. But Osmond acknowledges that is not the only reason to oppose it.
"Well I'd be naive to say that this bill is not political," she said. "This bill is political."
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said there are people, especially Republicans, cheering for the program to fail.
"They don't want a victory for President Obama," Durbin said. "Many of them resent any involvement of the federal government in our health care of our nation. Even though when it comes to Medicare, veterans' care and many other aspects of health care, the federal government has played an important role in providing adequate, affordable health care for decades."
Durbin said he is worried about the political tone of last month's arguments before the Supreme Court. But he also said so much of the health care act has already been implemented, it could be impossible to turn back. He said the country is on a path that won't change.
"This law is pointing us in an inevitable direction in America to bring everybody into the peace of mind of insurance coverage and to do something to reduce the increase in cost we face every year," Durbin said.
But that depends on the Supreme Court, and on who wins this fall's elections. As both sides acknowledge, the Affordable Care Act has become a politically dicey issue.
At stake is campaign cash from the insurance industry and the natural urge of politicians not to take action on anything controversial in an election year.
Many conservatives campaigned against the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and with Republicans and Democrats pitted against each other in new districts across Illinois, it's likely to be an issue again this year.