Prop 106 would guarantee health care protections

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The idea barely failed two years ago, but is expected to easily win approval in November amid opposition to the federal health care overhaul: State-guaranteed protections for health care that would be written into the Arizona Constitution.

Supporters of the proposal see it as an effort to block federal intervention into health care, while opponents say its passage won’t matter because the courts will conclude the federal law trumps any such protections passed by state voters.

Proposition 106 would prohibit requirements that a person or employer participate in a health care system and would ban penalties against patients or businesses for paying for health services on their own.

“We need health care reform, but we need health care reform that recognizes that health care decisions need to stay between patients and their families and not between politicians,” said Dr. Eric Novack, an orthopedic surgeon in metro Phoenix who is chairman of the campaign for the ballot measure and led a similar effort in 2008.

The federal law that was approved in Washington during the spring requires almost everyone to be insured or pay a fine, which takes effect in 2014. There is an exemption for low-income people. Employers would face a fee if the government subsidizes their workers’ coverage. Companies with 50 or fewer workers are exempt from the requirement.

Democratic state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix, an opponent of the ballot measure and a supporter of the federal overhaul, said the health care changes approved in Washington require that everyone have health insurance, but they don’t dictate which insurers people pick.

“They are trying to pass something that’s not going to make a difference and instead is going to cost the state a bunch of money in litigation,” Sinema said, noting that the courts are already considering challenges by states to the federal plan.

Voters in Colorado and Oklahoma will decide similar health care proposals in November.

When an earlier version of the proposal was put on the Arizona ballot in 2008, voters defeated it by less than a half percent. Nine months before the federal overhaul won approval in Congress, the Arizona Legislature voted to put the latest version of the proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The measure is expected to win easy passage because opposition to the federal health care overhaul is considerable in Arizona and the campaign for the proposal has raised $1.9 million while the opponents have reported raising zero dollars.

Novack said he sees his measure as a cornerstone for lowering costs and increasing access in the future. He said the federal overhaul will force Arizonans into health insurance plans that they don’t want to be in.

“There is no question that there will be limits on the ability of people to get access to care,” Novack said.

Sinema said Proposition 106 is an effort to stir up bad feelings toward the Obama administration, a charge rejected by Novack, who said he started to shape his concept in spring 2006 when Republicans controlled Congress.

“If you want to foment anger, just do some TV commercials,” Sinema said. “You don’t need to do a whole referendum.”