COLUMBUS — Voters took to the polls Tuesday to not only reject the policies of Republicans in the Statehouse but also the health-care reform law pushed through Congress by the Democrat in the White House.
With nearly 65 percent of the unofficial vote counted, 66.4 percent voted to rewrite the Ohio Constitution to send a message to President Obama and the U.S. Supreme Court. Issue 3 adds a 21st right to the constitution’s Bill of Rights to prohibit any law or rule that would, under the threat of fines, “compel’’ individuals to acquire health insurance or their employers to provide it.
It’s legally questionable whether any state can use its own constitution to block enforcement of a federal law. The future of Mr. Obama’s signature health-care law most likely rests with the nation’s highest court, but that didn’t stop Ohio voters from writing their protest into the state constitution.
Democrats had urged a “no” vote across the board on all three statewide ballot issues and walked away with a huge victory on Issue 2, the collective bargaining law. But the results showed that many voters split their ballots with voters angry over Issue 2 apparently also liking the anti-government message of Issue 3.
“We heard from a lot of organized labor people who were supportive of Issue 3 and weren’t necessarily supportive of Barack Obama,” said Jeff Longstreth, spokesman for Ohioans for Health-care Freedom. “That might be a surprise within organized labor, but people love freedom. They understand that this issue was about telling government to stay out of personal health-care decisions.
“We knew all along that this was a bipartisan issue,” he said. “Barack Obama wasn’t on the ballot, but Obamacare was. This was a message loud and clear around Ohio and the nation as to what people think of Obama’s number one legislative accompaniment.”
The day that voters cast their ballots, a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Washington upheld the constitutionality of the health-care law and its individual mandate, the latest in a series of conflicting rulings that will set the stage for Supreme Court action.
“The language on the ballot was so deceptive that, if I didn’t know better, I’d vote for it,” said Cathy Levine, police director for the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio. “Two pieces of mail I received in the last two days make it sound fine. The language proponents shared sounds good to lay people. Who doesn’t want freedom to choose their health care and health-care coverage? We all want that.
“We can’t let the passage of Issue 3 distract us from uniting payers, employers, and consumers to improve health-care , lower health-care costs, and expand options for affordable coverage,” she said.
Supporters of the law argue that, beyond sending a message to Washington, the constitutional amendment would prevent the state of Ohio or local governments from enacting their own health-care mandates. They point to Massachusetts’ health-care law that was ushered through by then GOP Gov. Mitt Romney that the Obama administration has said served as inspiration for the national law.
Opponents argued that the state constitutional language will set the stage for lengthy legislation over its impact on state laws and rules enacted after March 19, 2010, the trigger date written into the amendment that targets the federal health-care law.
It also remains to be seen how it might affect efforts by Gov. John Kasich’s administration to implement state-run health insurance pools that the federal law requires under which private insurers would compete for the business of low-income people and small businesses that must acquire insurance by 2014.
As of that date, individuals must acquire coverage either through private insurers, their employers, government-run programs like Medicare and Medicaid, or the state-run pools.
The petition effort to put Issue 3 on the ballot was initiated by the conservative Tea Party movement and was championed late in the game by the Ohio Republican Party to make sure it qualified for the ballot this year.
That ensured that a question framed as a referendum on the policies of Mr. Obama would appear on the same ballot as Issue 2, which Democrats have framed as a referendum on Mr. Kasich.