In another salvo against the federal Affordable Care Act, some Republicans in West Virginia's House of Delegates want to make it a crime for state and federal officials to enforce the health-care law. Under the GOP-backed bill (HB2509), federal employees would face felony charges, while state workers would be arrested for a misdemeanor offense, if they try to administer any federal regulations under the Affordable Care Act. The legislation also declares the federal health-care law "invalid" in West Virginia.
Before getting elected to the U.S. Senate, Iowa Republican Joni Ernst adopted some remarkably radical political beliefs, including the notion that Iowa could pass a law "nullifying" the Affordable Care Act in the state. The Republican even endorsed allowing local law enforcement to "arrest federal officials attempting to implement" the federal health care law.
Obviously, nothing became of these extremist positions, and Ernst was never able to act on her ridiculous beliefs. But the hyper-conservative ideas she embraced clearly haven't faded from Republicans' minds. The Charleston Gazette reported this week:
Perry Bryant, who heads West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, told the paper, "It's one thing to oppose the Affordable Care Act, but it's another thing to make it a criminal act for people to do their job. This is really an extreme piece of legislation, as extreme as anything I've seen this session."
Or any session, really. The notion that a state can simply nullify a federal law it doesn't like is absurd -- the last time states considered this approach, the question was resolved by the Civil War. The "nullification" crowd lost.
The notion that West Virginia Republicans could make it a literal crime to enforce American law in America is simply bonkers.
And yet, the proposal has the support of a half-dozen GOP lawmakers in West Virginia and was taken up by the state House Health and Human Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Making matters slightly worse, it's not at all clear why West Virginia Republicans would be so desperate to destroy the law -- it's currently working very well statewide. Just this week, we learned that West Virginia's uninsured rate has dropped to 10.9%, down from 17.6% in 2013.
That's one of the sharpest improvements of any state in the nation, and it's the direct result of West Virginia embracing Medicaid expansion through the ACA and creating its own state-based exchange marketplace. Even if the Affordable Care Act were a disaster in West Virginia, states can't just pick and choose which federal laws they'll honor and which they'll nullify. But the truth of the matter is that the ACA is a great success in the state.
I realize that President Obama is not popular in West Virginia, so any law known as "Obamacare" is going to draw spirited opposition. But this nullification scheme is outlandish, even by 2015 standards.