Two doctors have launched an initiative drive to preclude lawmakers from ever requiring Arizonans to purchase health insurance.
The proposed constitutional amendment bans approval of any law “that restricts a person’s freedom of choice of private health care systems or private plans of any type.”
The measure, if it makes it on the ballot and is approved by voters next year, would prohibit the state from imposing any penalty or fine on anyone because of the type of insurance that person chooses to buy — or chooses not to buy coverage at all.
Backers have until July 3 to get 230,047 valid signatures on petitions to put the issue on next year’s general election ballot.
Jeffrey Singer, a Phoenix surgeon, said he and colleague Eric Novack proposed the initiative because states are pushing ahead with their own universal health care plans in the absence of federal action.
Massachusetts, for example, requires all people to purchase insurance or face a fine. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing a similar program there.
An aide to Gov. Janet Napolitano said her health care proposal to be given to legislators in January has no mandatory health insurance. But Singer said his measure is necessary to ensure Arizonans will not be forced to have health insurance in the future.
Singer said he’s not against health insurance as a matter of choice. But he said government mandates have a way of producing unintended consequences that end up limiting the options patients have to get care.
“We just want to make sure that whatever ends up happening ... won’t be able to restrict people’s freedom of choice regarding whether or not they want to participate in a particular plan,” Singer said.
One concern, Singer said, would be provisions to ban individuals from directly paying for health care.
That’s what happens in Canada, he said. If that country’s health program will not pay for a particular treatment or test, doctors are legally precluded from performing it, even if the patient has the money to pay for it.
“Wealthy Canadians fly down to Phoenix all the time and get elective surgery rather than wait online two years in Canada,” he said. “We don’t want that to happen in Arizona.”
And Singer said the initiative also would protect the right of patients to obtain prescriptions or alternate types of medical care not covered by insurance.
For example, he said a patient may be unable to get an insurer to pay for a specific pain reliever that proves effective because it is not in the company’s “formulary” of approved medications. Singer said individuals should continue to keep the right to buy a more effective drug with his or her own money.
And he said people sometimes opt for alternative medical treatments that are not covered.
“I’m not going to say I’m advocating that,” Singer said. “But these are personal choices.”
He said the measure would not force insurers to cover any specific medications or treatments. Those issues, he said, are covered by contracts between a policyholder and an insurer.
Singer is no stranger to taking issues directly to the ballot.
He was one of the architects behind a 1996 measure to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana and otherwise controlled or illegal drugs to terminally and seriously ill patients. That measure passed — as did a ratification two years later after legislators tinkered with it — though threats by federal drug agents to prosecute doctors here have so far kept them from actually writing prescriptions.
Novack has a weekly radio show in Phoenix.