SC senator wants to take nullification out of anti-Obamacare bill

abeam@thestate.comJanuary 8, 2014 

Tom Davis

  • Restricting Obamacare

    State Sen. Tom Davis has proposed an amendment to a House bill, H.3101, that seeks to limit the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act in South Carolina.

    Before Davis’ amendment

    Offers a tax deduction to any S.C. taxpayer to offset any federal penalties for not complying with the Affordable Care Act

    After Davis’ amendment

    Removes the tax deduction

    Bans state agencies, local governments and their employees from helping people sign up for health insurance on the federal health exchange

    Bans S.C. from ever expanding its Medicaid program or setting up a state-run health exchange

    Provides for the state licensing and regulation of “navigators” – nonprofit groups that receive federal money to help people sign up for health insurance on the federal health exchange

    Allows the S.C. insurance commissioner to retain authority over insurance products sold on the federal health exchange “to the maximum extent possible by law”

— A Republican lawmaker says he plans to take the “nullification” out of the Obamacare nullification bill before the state Senate.

The federal Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – requires everyone to have health insurance or pay a federal tax. The state bill, H.3101, which will be before the state Senate when the Legislature reconvenes next week, would offer a state tax deduction to offset that federal tax, effectively removing the punishment for not following the law.

But state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, the chairman of a Senate subcommittee assigned to study the House bill, is preparing an amendment that would eliminate that tax deduction.

“The conversation really has gotten off the rails a little bit,” Davis said Wednesday, after holding three public hearings across the state that drew hundreds. “Everybody talks about nullification. This isn’t nullification. We can’t nullify.”

But while South Carolina can’t stop the law, Davis said lawmakers can make it difficult for the law to succeed.

“I consider the Affordable Care Act to be an infection that endangers not only the effective delivery of health care in our nation, but also our economy and quality of life,” Davis said. “South Carolina and other states have an obligation to slow the spread of that infection as best they can until such time as Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act.”

Davis’ amendment, which he plans to introduce next week, would make it against the law for state agencies or local governments to help people buy insurance on the federal health exchange. It also would ban the state from ever accepting federal money to expand Medicaid, the joint federal and state health insurance program for the poor. (The Legislature declined to accept that money last year.)

And it would ban state agencies – or any group that receives state money – from taking federal money to help people sign up for health coverage on the federal insurance marketplace. Also, any group that takes federal money to help people sign up for health insurance would have to be licensed and regulated by the state, including having “navigators’ pass a written exam, and complete various training and certification requirements.

One of those groups is the S.C. Progressive Network, which partnered with the Cooperative Ministry to receive a $98,000 federal grant to pay 11 navigators to help people sign up for health insurance. The city of Charleston allowed some navigators to use city-owned buildings and computers to meet with people and help them sign up for insurance. Davis’ amendment would make Charleston’s assistance illegal.

“States that have done that have killed the navigator program,” said Brett Bursey, executive director for the Progressive Network. “We have a pathetic little effort of 10 or 11 people who get $240 a week ... to help people in South Carolina ... get a subsidized insurance policy – most of them for the first time in their life. Basically, this bill and the intent of the Republican-dominated Legislature is to prevent that from happening.”

Other states have sought to regulate navigators. A federal judge overturned a Tennessee regulation, saying it violated the navigators’ right to free speech. Davis said he is working with S.C. Insurance Commissioner Ray Farmer to develop language that would “impose reasonable rules.”

“I don’t want a situation where you have thousands of unregulated individuals going around South Carolina making who knows what representation to people regarding what is and isn’t available,” Davis said. “The insurance commissioner has the authority to make sure South Carolinians are protected against misleading statements.”

Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, declined to comment on Davis’ amendment, saying he has not seen it yet. But, he added, “The important issues in this state are education, infrastructure and jobs.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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