CHEYENNE — Wyoming residents will vote next year on a proposed constitutional amendment asserting they have the right to make their own health care decisions, after Gov. Matt Mead signed the measure Saturday.
If it’s approved, Wyoming would become the third state to change its constitution in an attempt to resist the federal health care reform law passed last year — especially a provision requiring most Americans to buy health insurance.
The proposed amendment states that “each competent adult shall have the right to make his or her own health care decisions.” It also states that anyone may pay directly for health care — and any health care provider may accept payment — without being penalized, and that the state shall act to preserve these rights from “undue government infringement.”
However, the Legislature would be allowed to impose “reasonable and necessary restrictions” on those rights “to protect the health and general welfare of the people.”
Supporters of the amendment said the measure would put Wyoming in a good position to make its own alternative health care proposals to the Affordable Care Act, which was championed and signed by President Barack Obama in March 2010.
Polls have shown that the law is opposed by most Wyoming residents.
“The potential is clear for overt rationing of health care where you simply cannot get health care you need,” said state Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, during floor debate last month. “This sets some real boundaries on how far (government) can go.”
But opponents said the bill is too vague, does not belong in the Wyoming Constitution and may have unintended consequences.
State Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, voiced concern last week that the way the proposed amendment is written could give guardians of
children or disabled people rights they don’t have now.
There are people, she said, who abuse their rights to take care of disabled people and seniors, as there are parents who do not make good decisions for their children.
“If the language is in the constitution, we might not be able to protect those people” who are vulnerable, Throne said.
The proposed amendment passed the Wyoming Senate 23-7 and the House 49-11.
Mead, who made opposition to the federal health care law a major part of his campaign platform last year, signed the bill Saturday without making a public statement.
The measure will now be submitted to voters on the November 2012 ballot. To pass, it must receive a majority of all votes cast in the election, since Wyoming law considers ballots where the question is left blank to be “no” votes.
Last year, Arizona and Oklahoma voters each approved amendments to their state constitutions stating that no law could compel a person, employer or health care provider to buy health insurance. The same year, Colorado voters shot down a similar referendum question.
Wyoming has also joined 25 other states in suing the federal government over the health care law.
Late last month, a federal judge in Florida ruled in favor of the states, holding that the law’s “individual mandate” for health insurance was unconstitutional; the case has been appealed and is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the health care freedom measure is the first proposed constitutional amendment to make the 2012 ballot, state legislators are also considering additional amendments that would ban gay marriage, allow town and county governments to consolidate, expand the authority of district court commissioners, and assert the right of Wyoming citizens to hunt, fish, and trap.