Rule of Law

Lone Utah Democrat defends national health reform


A minority in her own minority party, Rep. Rebecca Chauvez-Houck was the lone Utah Democrat to sign a legal document in defense of President Barack Obama’s signature health overhaul.

More than 500 lawmakers from all 50 states signed a “friend-of-the-court” brief backing the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which is being challenged by 26 states in a case now resting with the U.S. Supreme Court. The brief, filed Thursday, was prepared by the Progressive States Network and Constitutional Accountability Center.

“The majority of my constituents support the Affordable Care Act,” said Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City. “It’s not a black and white issue. There’s work to be done to allow states some autonomy to partner with the federal government in implementing the law. … But I find it nerve-wracking that we continue to challenge its most basic elements.”

Federal health reform aims to virtually eliminate the nation’s ranks of uninsured through an expansion of Medicaid and a requirement that individuals buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty.

It’s this core requirement, the insurance mandate, that 26 states, including Utah, challenged last year as unconstitutional. Their argument: Congress overstepped its authority to regulate interstate commerce by compelling people to purchase health coverage even if they want to pay their own expenses or don’t need medical care.

Democrats, in their legal brief, contend, “Congress has the power to regulate the nearly 20 percent of the U.S. economy that is the health care industry and when faced with a national health care crisis in which millions are uninsured and cannot afford decent health care.”

Chavez-Houck is one of 24 Democrats in the Utah legislature. None of Utah’s minority lawmakers responded on Thursday to calls for comment.