Interstate-compact legislation advances in Tennessee and Oklahoma as debate intensifies in Louisiana

Tea Party activists joined forces with Sen. Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas) on Wednesday to testify in favor of legislation to suspend federal health care regulations and empower state officials.

Guillory’s Intergovern Relations Bill (SB 206) would enable Louisiana to enter into Health Care Compacts (HCCs) with other states. Under these agreements it may be possible for states shield themselves from ObamaCare’s insurance mandate.

After intense debate, the Louisiana Senate Health and Welfare Committee decided to defer further consideration of the bill now scheduled for Wednesday next week, so that a fiscal note measuring the bill’s cost can be attached.

While both houses of Congress must first approve HCCs, the concept of interstate compacts has been in effect in other policy areas.  In fact, over 200 compacts are now in force including one between the Port Authorities of New York and New Jersey and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority.

So far, supporters have introduced HCCs into 14 states, according to the Health Care Compact Alliance, a grassroots organization that is coordinating nationwide campaigns. On the same day as Louisiana’s hearing on Guillory’s bill, Oklahoma signed an HCC into law, and the Tennessee State Senate passed their version, en route to the House.

“The preservation of individual liberty requires the separation of powers,” Meredith Simonton, a member of the Alliance, said in testimony. And she argued that HCCs would go a long way toward restoring states to their proper station in the constitutional order. She is concerned, though, that committee members were fixated on the administrative role the state Department of Health and Hospitals and did not wrestle with HCCs’ policy merits.

Tea Party activists who testified told committee members the best way to reduce medical costs and expand consumer choice is to move power and influence out of Washington D.C. and back to officials who are more accountable to the people.

“Health Care Compacts put health care policy back into the hands of our local legislators who we can interact with better,” Connie Boyer, a Tea Party member said. “Washington D.C. did not consult with physicians when they passed this plan.” This sentiment was shared by Janice DeKeyzer, another Tea Party member, who said Louisiana was better equipped than the federal government to craft its own health care policy.

Committee member Sen. Cynthia Williard-Lewis (D-New Orleans), however, said she was not confident HCCs would translate into the kind of reforms that would benefit her constituency. Multiple rankings have already placed Louisiana 49th among the 50 states in terms of health care quality, she pointed out.

“This gives me great pause,” she said. “I have seen reforms that didn’t help people. The vision of DHH is not working and that is more a matter of resources not individuals [in the department].”

Sen. David Heitmeier (D-New Orleans) expressed concern that Louisiana is losing out on federal funding for health care, since the state’s population has declined. He suggested that HCCs could actually work against Louisiana’s best interests. The amount of federal funding states receive for health care is adjusted each year to account for changes in population and inflation.

In response, Boyer, the Tea Party activist, said in her testimony that one way to attract more people to Louisiana is to improve the health care system, which is the primary motivation for HCCs.

While addressing fellow committee members, Sen. Guillory sharply criticized ObamaCare and made the case for an alternative set of reforms that would alleviate costs for small business owners.

“[ObamaCare] will bankrupt Louisiana,” Guillory warned. “Forcing me to buy insurance under threat of penalty is just plain un-American.”

Robin Edwards, the president on the Baton Rouge Tea Party, said in an interview that ObamaCare waivers Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and various special interest groups have received are telling. As previously reported, several Louisiana unions have also received waivers from ObamaCare requirements.

“It’s an obvious point,” said Edwards, who helped found the Louisiana Tea Party Federation. “If ObamaCare is such a good bill why are some of its key backers trying to get out of these requirements. We don’t want Washington D.C. bureaucrats running our health care system. That’s why the Tea Party is backing Guillory’s bill.”

Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter.