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VOL. 35 | NO. 7 | Friday, February 18, 2011




Senate passes 'Health Freedom Act'

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The Republican-controlled Senate passed a measure Wednesday that would allow Tennesseans to opt out of the federal health care law despite opposition from some who say the proposal is unnecessary and pure politics.

The "Health Freedom Act" sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, was passed on a 21-10 party-line vote. The companion bill awaits a hearing in the House Commerce, Labor and Agriculture Committee.

Beavers said her proposal doesn't argue for or against the federal law but simply "gives Tennesseans a choice."

"Simply put, this gives Tennesseans a choice of their own private policy or national health care and prevents them from being fined by the federal government should they chose not to participate," Beavers said after the vote. "This is not politics."

The new federal health care law requires Americans either to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, beginning in 2014; federal judges have come down differently on the requirement. President Barack Obama has said people would be able to keep their health care plan.

The federal law also would bar insurers from turning away people with medical conditions the same year, require companies to cover young adults up to age 26 on their parents' policies, and extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans.

Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga was one of several Democrats who tried unsuccessfully to amend the legislation to make sure certain policies in the federal law would have to be made available, such as health coverage through age 25.

"When we get up here, we're supposed to do the people's business," he said. "This bill is politics, not the people's business."

Sen. Tim Barnes said such an amendment is important because some individuals in their 20s "feel like they're invincible" and don't really consider the consequences of their actions.

"I think those that are able should carry health insurance," said the Clarksville Democrat.

Physician Christi Witherspoon, who practices internal medicine, said she can see both sides.

"I think that it's important for people to have the freedom of choice," she said. "But as an internist working in a busy hospital, often I will see the other end. When someone comes in with something catastrophic, ... if the patient does not have insurance, it ends up being the taxpayer who pays for that."

Both the Senate and House failed to work out differences in the legislation last year.

The measure has a strong chance of passing this year because Republicans control the House and Senate, and every committee in both chambers is headed by a GOP member.

Also Wednesday, the Senate Government Operations Committee passed a tougher proposal by Beavers that calls for Tennessee to join an interstate compact challenging the federal health care law.

The proposal would provide a waiver for each participating state to create its own health care system. The compact would have to be approved by Congress.

"It will allow us to draw down federal funds and decide how to spend that money ourselves instead of all the mandates and regulations from the federal government," Beavers said of her proposal.

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