Health Freedom Act Clears House Committee; Sponsor Says We Can Pay Doctors with Vegetables

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Republicans running the House Commerce Committee spun their wheels again this morning, wasting time for the second straight week on legislation purporting to nullify national health care reform.

In an advisory opinion, state Attorney General Bob Cooper already has stated the so-called Health Freedom Act likely won’t stand up in court because of this bothersome little thing called the U.S. Constitution and the Supremacy Clause, which holds that federal laws supersede those of the states.

But Republicans are bent on playing to the tea party crowd in an election year, and so they rammed through the bill by a vote of 19-11. It’s already passed the Senate.

The bill supposedly gives all Tennesseans the right to disobey the national law’s mandate to buy health insurance. “That’s what this bill is about—it’s about freedom. It’s about giving people choice,” said the sponsor, Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville.

With a straight face, Bell went on to tell Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, that people who choose not to buy insurance can pay their medical bills with vegetables like the Mennonites do in his district.

Bell: They’re some of the healthiest people you have ever seen. They pay cash when they go to the doctor. They work out arrangements with the hospitals if their children have to be hospitalized. This is an individual choice that we’re talking about.

Towns: You’re saying they pay cash? For organ transplants and cancer and heart cases, they pay cash?

Bell: I said they pay cash or work out other arrangements. I know for a fact. I know someone in the medical field who has been paid with vegetables from the Mennonite community.

Towns: That’s an anomaly. That’s not how the system works. I can’t take a sack of vegetables down to the utility company and pay my utility bill on my house. Nobody’s going to take vegetables for payment. We can’t run the country on vegetables and horse trading.

House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh tried again to amend the bill so that anyone who opts out of the law also opts out of Medicare and every other federal health care program.

For those who want the government off their backs, Naifeh argued reasonably, “this really gives them that opportunity to absolutely get the government off their backs.” That succeeded only in spotlighting the hypocrisy of the bill’s supporters, who quickly tabled Naifeh’s amendment.

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