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Senator pushes bill to allow states to opt out of health care law

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Empower States to Innovate Act" would allow states to opt out of federal health care mandates
  • Proposed bill would allow states to opt out if they are able to satisfy services and coverage provided under federal law
  • Proposed bill came during November's "lame duck" session in Congress

(CNN) -- A leading advocate of states' ability to opt out of federal health care mandates told CNN's "Parker Spitzer" show on Tuesday that a recent bill he co-authored would foster bipartisanship and "encourage innovation [in health-care] right out of the gate."

Democrat Senator Ron Wyden joined Republican Scott Brown in introducing the "Empower States to Innovate Act" last week. It would alter the current health bill to allow states to opt-out of federal mandates by 2014 if they are able to satisfy the level of services and coverage provided under existing federal law.

"It ought to be appealing to conservatives, this is a states' rights approach," Wyden said. "And it certainly ought to be appealing to progressive folks who would like to try some of their ideas out at the state level."

The current law allows states to apply for waivers to opt-out of federal mandates starting in 2017, provided they meet federal levels of service and coverage.

"Nobody wants to go back to the days when insurance companies can hammer somebody for a pre-existing condition [and] hit people with huge co-pays when they need preventive services," Wyden said.

"This is an opportunity for folks in the U.S. Senate to come together and come up with a real solution."

Wyden said that allowing states to determine their own health care solutions is part of the bill's driving concept, but it is unclear how states will avoid or offset traditionally high medical costs if they allow individuals to opt out of coverage.

The proposed bill came during November's "lame duck" session in Congress, in which some lawmakers who return for this session will not be in the next Congress after losing their seats during midterm elections.

If incoming House Republicans make good on campaign promises to repeal the health reform bill -- the Obama administration's largest and perhaps most controversial piece of legislation since taking office -- their efforts could be blocked by a Democrat-led majority in the U.S. Senate or presidential veto.

But House Republicans, led by incoming House GOP leader John Boehner, could work to halt appropriations funding for portions of the legislation.

The health care law, parts of which are just taking effect, requires Americans to buy health insurance, provides subsidies to bring down the cost of those policies and stops insurers from denying coverage based on gender or pre-existing conditions.

Voters have given Republicans a mandate to cut government and roll back the Obama administration's health care "monstrosity" in the next Congress, Boehner said earlier this month.

Republicans throughout midterm campaigning blasted the federal bill, signed into law in March, after voting all but unanimously against it in Congress.

Obama called the process of passing the bill "an ugly mess" and "something that I regret" but added: "The outcome was a good one."