UPDATE: A video of one of the speakers has been uploaded to this story.
South Carolina is getting closer to thumbing its nose at the Affordable Care Act, but GOP lawmakers want to know if a bill moving through the Statehouse can become more than just a gesture.
A bill that tries to nullify the federal healthcare law, dubbed Obamacare, now sits second in line for debate in the S.C. Senate. It passed the House in the spring and is set for special order in January.
Because it was fast-tracked to the floor, there were no public committee hearings on House Bill 3101 in the Senate last year. The GOP majority is giving the public the chance to vent or to defend the federal healthcare law during public hearings this week.
The bill’s champion in the Senate, Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), is leading hearings in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston this week. According to Davis, the bill would make it illegal to implement portions of the Affordable Care Act if it harms South Carolinians. It also would make healthcare insurance exchanges under the federal law illegal in the state.
The libertarian Republican said the four-pronged bill can be made constitutional.
In Columbia on Wednesday, about 100 people filled two hearing rooms and the outside hallway for testimony, which was overwhelmingly against the federal law and for the House bill. A sample of the comments:
- “I will not create, I will not produce, I will not hire,” a businessman told the panel
- “Socialism is not what made America great, and theft at gunpoint is not charity,” Sharon Clark told the senators
- “There is a place where if you want the government to look after you, where they put you in a nice warm bed, they give you security, they give clothe you, they give you medical care. It’s called prison,” Trevor Teissen said
Patricia Wheat of the Columbia area told the senators that Obamacare was just one law of many actions taking away American freedom. She said America was “most free” prior to 1964. The comment, originally tweeted by South Carolina Radio Network’s Twitter handle @scrnnews, earned buzz on social media.
South Carolina Radio Network reached out to Wheat to clarify her comment. She said her comment alluded to the centralization of federal power, like removing the silver backing from money, not legislative items like civil rights laws. However, she did go on to call civil rights legislation “a smoke screen” because American constitutional rights supersede that act.
To see Wheat’s comments, click the video below:
Of the handful of people who spoke against the state’s efforts to block Obamacare, one was a veteran who used the proponents of the bill’s words against them and highlighted their use of “tyranny” as hyperbole.
“I keep hearing tyranny, tyranny, tyranny. I consider that an insult,” Randy Herald of Lexington said. “I’ve seen tyranny … as a Navy veteran.”
One of the senators on the panel, Sen. Kevin Johnson (D-Clarendon), piggybacked Herald’s comments to address the claim by many speakers that the federal law was unconstitutional. He told the audience he took a civics in high school and that after the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed it, it became the “law of the land.” In the proposed bill’s language it also calls the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.
Some of those who supported the state’s sentiment behind the bill were concerned with its implementation. Jim Ritchie of South Carolina Alliance of Health Plans was one of those concerned, taking issue with Section 3, which allows for the state attorney general to take action against those “harming” South Carolinians by implementing the federal law.
“This section three invites great uncertainty and has large unintended consequences,” Ritchie said. “Harm is very broad and not defined … I think it would invite huge litigation in South Carolina.”
Lewis Gossett, president of the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance, also expressed concern over Section 3, despite his personal reservations on Obamacare.
“The reason we oppose (the state bill is) because of the unintended consequences. It gives us a terrible choice. We will either comply with federal law or state law, and that’s not a position we want to be in,” Gossett told the committee.