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Tennessee Sends 'Health Freedom Act' to Governor's Desk

A proposal that would allow Tennesseans to opt out of the federal health care law is headed to the governor for his consideration after passing the Republican-controlled House 70-27 Monday on a party-line vote.

The companion to the "Health Freedom Act" also passed the Senate 21-10 on a party-line vote last month.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to review the proposal when it reaches his desk.

Republican House sponsor Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster said the legislation doesn't argue for or against the federal law but just gives Tennesseans a choice.

"The people of Tennessee do not want government telling them what they can or cannot have," she said before the vote.

The new federal health care law requires Americans either to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, beginning in 2014. Federal judges have come down differently on the requirement.

The federal law also would bar insurers from turning away people with medical conditions the same year, require companies to cover young adults up to age 26 on their parents' policies, and extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans.

President Barack Obama has said people would be able to keep their health care plan.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully Monday to amend the proposal to add measures that would protect policies already in the federal law, such as providing coverage for young adults into their mid-twenties.

"I think the amendments showed some positive public policy for this state, and I hate they weren't put on this bill," said Democratic Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research applauded the bill's passage.

"This is a very important day for Tennesseans, as the date draws near that the federal government will force them to purchase health insurance," TCPR president Justin Owen said in a statement. "This new law will provide Tennesseans with additional recourse against what two federal judges have already ruled to be an unconstitutional mandate."

Both the Senate and House failed to work out differences in the legislation last year.

Another health care-related proposal seems to be stalling this session. The measure calls for Tennessee to join an interstate compact challenging the federal health care law. It would provide a waiver for each participating state to create its own health care system. The compact would have to be approved by Congress.

The legislation is scheduled to be heard by the Senate General Welfare Health and Human Resources Committee this week. However, the companion bill has been withdrawn from consideration in the same committee in the House.