When the Georgia Senate debated restricting the governor’s authority to unilaterally implement portions of Obamacare without legislative approval, only one Republican stood up to speak against it. When the same body debated implementing their own insurance mandate within Georgia’s borders, none voiced objection. Those that opposed the mandate kept (or were kept) silent, and those who supported it spared no expense patting one another on the back for its passage, singing the praises of government regulation of the healthcare industry, and (in the case of one Republican) explicitly calling out organizations like the NFIB for being “on the wrong side” of the issue.
The mandate was described by Democrats as a step in the right direction – by Republicans as “godly,” as a blessing for sick children, and as simply “the right thing to do.” In the end, it was the same group of Republicans who led to the death of a bill legalizing effective medical treatment for children suffering from seizures.
Some additional context is appropriate. Since the 2012 elections (and very likely before), members of the Georgia GOP have endeavored to pass what is commonly referred to as Ava’s Law, which mandates insurance coverage for certain types of autism treatments for any child covered under a policy or contract who is under six years of age. It is not uncommon for the already heavily-regulated insurance industry to be tied to the whipping post and lambasted in the name of the “common good,” and the regulation in question was but a paper cut amidst the gashes already inflicted. Rather, it was the eagerness with which Republicans once again bound insurers’ arms and ankles to that post that was most appalling.
The debate could hardly be called such. It was nothing but a line of senators crawling over one another to reach the well to congratulate one another, hail Republican leadership for their support behind the bill, and exploit stories of sick children for political gains without ever explaining how the illnesses of one permits injury to another. Biblical scripture was cited as supposed justification. The NFIB and other opponents were called out by name on the Senate floor. Democrats, never averse to government expansion, joined the chorus. Meanwhile, the few Republicans who opposed the law sat silently at their desks, fully aware of the thinly veiled threats from leadership in the form of calls for “unanimity.” Such senators excused themselves from the vote, fearful of the retribution their chairmanships and pending legislation would face should their name appear in red at the end of the vote.
To no one’s surprise, the mandate passed unanimously and to thunderous applause.
Fortunately, while the House passed its own insurance mandate requiring parity in cost of coverage for different kinds of chemotherapy and setting a $200 cap on the copay per prescription of the medication (which can cost thousands), it apparently could not stomach another. The mandate died in its House committee, but was resurrected on the fortieth and final legislative day of the General Assembly in 2014.
The House, to their credit, passed a much-touted bill legalizing a particular sort of medical marijuana – an oil (which does not produce a high) to be taken orally for seizures – by a 171-4 vote. Though the medical industry should not have to operate on permission (nor should individuals using marijuana recreationally, for that matter), the bill would have further challenged marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance under federal law and, ideally, served as a stepping stone to total deregulation.
After it became clear that the insurance mandate had failed in the House, however, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee drafted a substitute to the medical marijuana bill, incorporating the insurance mandate into the House bill. The substitute was debated in the Senate on the final day of the session, and passed the chamber with a 54-0 vote, with only two members not voting. The Senate HHS Chair called the autism mandate “non-negotiable,” and told the House that medical marijuana would not move forward in 2014 if the autism mandate did not as well. The senator, who was the most frequent employer of sob stories of sick children to expand government control over the health industry, held hostage a good law by tying it to a bad law, ironically gambling with the health and well-being of children who could been helped by the former. The all-or-nothing bet failed, and both bills died when the House elected to take no further action, including the medical marijuana provisions that both chambers agreed to and could have passed.
Unfortunate though this outcome was, it is imperative at such moments to remember the words of President Calvin Coolidge, who noted that, “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” Tragic though it is that medical marijuana will be delayed for another year, it is a bill whose time has come and will be passed at the next opportunity. Repealing a bad law once implemented is a much greater challenge. To the House, which understood this principle, I offer but two words: well done.
The mandate itself is but another example of the cognitive dissonance within the Republican Party. The politicians elevating government force to the status of some sort of divinely inspired “justice” are the same who run home to town hall meetings and fundraisers telling constituents how much they oppose government intrusion into people’s healthcare, retirement, and general lives. Opposition to Obamacare is one of the central tenets of their campaigns; mirroring it on the state level through various regulations and mandates is the very purpose of their legislative policy agendas. Conservatives have yet to grasp that, to paraphrase an old saying, when the government’s boot is on your throat, whether it is a federal boot or a state boot is of no consequence.