- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2011

President Obama isn’t alone in his desire to meddle with individual health care options. This week, Virginia lawmakers are expected to vote on legislation putting Richmond in charge of one more aspect of insurance coverage in the commonwealth. It’s part of a national trend of politicians thinking the public is incapable of making intelligent decisions without government. Such ideas need to be rejected regardless of whether they are being pushed by Democrats or Republicans.

Bizarrely, it’s the GOP leading the charge to expand the government’s role in the Old Dominion. By a 16-6 vote last week, a House of Delegates committee approved a measure that would compel insurance companies to provide up to $35,000 worth of annual coverage for the treatment of children diagnosed with autism. The measure has the strong backing of House Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican who apparently enjoys passing legislation that “does something” about some sort of terrible affliction - as long as he is spending someone else’s money.

The problem isn’t so much that the autism bill would drive up the already high cost of insurance for everyone; a state analysis showed more sweeping coverage would have cost an extra $59 per year. Rather, the issue is the cumulative effect of all the coverage mandates in Virginia and around the country. According to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, Virginia’s 57 separate insurance policy requirements place it at No. 5 on the list of most-regulated states. Maryland, one of the four with a higher chart position, already has autism coverage. It also forces insurance companies to pick up the $100,000 tab for in vitro fertilization treatment and subsidize contraceptives and nicotine patches. Maryland even forces companies to include homosexual “domestic partners” on policies. Taken together, these schemes drove up the cost of an individual insurance policy by 19 percent, according to a 2008 study by the Maryland Health Care Commission.

In several states, consumers are forced to pay for coverage of dubious medical treatments, such as visits to chiropractors and acupuncturists. Each time a feel-good bill is signed into law based on weepy anecdotes, health insurance becomes that much more expensive and creates horror stories for those who can no longer afford basic coverage. Liberals, in turn, use this high cost as an excuse to impose even more government controls. It’s time to break the cycle.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is fighting an important court battle against the federal mandates of Obamacare. Mr. Howell and his colleagues in the General Assembly shouldn’t undermine the Old Dominion’s case by replacing the president’s unconstitutional provisions with mandates of their own. The less government at any level is involved in the insurance decisions of Americans, the better. Simply by repealing mandates across the board, state legislatures could achieve immediate cost savings. There’s no reason to restrict consumer choice with government mandates.