January 11, 2007
Health Care Amendment killed as 101 legislators defy state constitution to table measure
by Ann Eldridge Malone, RN
The constitutional amendment to make health care a right in Massachusetts was derailed on January 2 by the Massachusetts Legislature as 101 legislators defied the state constitution and refused to vote on the measure. Only 50 legislators needed to vote “yes” in order for the amendment to move forward onto the 2008 statewide ballot. Special interest forces lobbied with unusual intensity to influence legislative leadership to kill the measure. The leadership responded by a legislative maneuver that sent the amendment back to committee for study rather than voting upon it. The vote to table the amendment was 101-92, which indicates that the amendment would have had no trouble getting the votes to go forward if only it had been given a fair up-or-down vote.
The refusal to vote defied a Supreme Judicial Court ruling that said that legislators had a constitutional duty under Article 48 of the State Constitution to vote upon amendments brought to them by citizen petition. Legal actions to fight this unconstitutional abuse of power are being pursued by multiple entities including the Committee for the Health Care Amendment and other civic groups in the state.
It is a sad day indeed when a citizen-led effort that toiled for four years to establish health system standards as part of a constitutional guarantee for “comprehensive, affordable and equitably financed health insurance” is killed by 101 lawmakers using an unconstitutional tactic. But the need to make health care a right is more urgent than ever, and this disappointment has only reinforced the commitment of health care advocates to get back to work.
The state’s new health law, Chapter 58, does some important and good things, including extending comprehensive insurance coverage to more of the poor. But this law also has put the state – and its taxpayers – on a course of exorbitantly expensive, irresponsible, wasteful, and unworkable reforms that will continue to leave tens of thousands without affordable comprehensive coverage while sucking up state funds that are needed for other vital programs. More details on the flaws of the law are discussed in the useful article Health Plan Needs Dose of Common Sense and in MassCare’s newly created Chapter 58 law slideshow.
The cause of health justice is underway 365 days a year at the Alliance to Defend Health Care and its many partner organizations, such as the Health Care Amendment Campaign. Their work will not cease until Massachusetts adopts a workable plan to provide affordable, quality health care to all its residents.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The roll call vote includes votes of both senators and representatives. “Yes” is a vote in favor of advancing the health care amendment.
For more information on the fight for health care:
Alliance to Defend Health Care
Committee for Health Care for Massachusetts
Health Care Now