Opponents force Ohio vote to opt out of health mandate

Signatures get issue on ballot

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Voters will decide whether Ohio can opt out of President Obama’s national health care overhaul after the state’s top election official said Tuesday that opponents of the federal law have enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Secretary of State Jon Husted determined that supporters of the amendment, which would prohibit Ohio from participating in the federal Affordable Care Act, had gathered 427,000 valid signatures. They had submitted more than 546,000 and needed roughly 358,000 of them validated to make it on to the ballot.

The amendment will find itself on the ballot alongside a measure to repeal a contentious new collective-bargaining law limiting the power of public-sector unions. A liberal policy group, however, said it could file a challenge to the health care measure, because it was still finding invalid signatures in its review.

A coalition of tea party organizations, small-government advocates and religious groups gathered the signatures to get the health care measure on the ballot and now plan to mount a statewide campaign in support of it.

The coalition has more than 35,000 volunteers, an “army of grass-roots support,” ready to mobilize to raise money to turn out voters in November’s election, said Jeff Longstreth, campaign manager for Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom, a group that played a large role in the petitions.

“This issue would not be on the ballot without the blood, sweat and tears of thousands and thousands and thousands of volunteers,” Mr. Longstreth said. “The message is clear: Keep health care between doctors and patients, and keep bureaucrats out of it.”

The measure would change the Ohio Constitution to prohibit any federal, state or local law from forcing Ohio residents, employers or health care providers to participate in a health care system. It also would prevent the state from enacting a Massachusetts-style health care program, where the state requires a minimum level of insurance coverage.

If passed, the amendment would not apply to any law or rule in effect before March 19, 2010, so as not to prohibit Ohioans for participating in programs such as Medicare.

A spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich told the Associated Press in an email that the governor remains opposed to “federal interference” in Ohio health care, and is pleased with the inclusion of the amendment on November’s ballot.

The groups backing the amendment are united by a common belief that government is overstepping its bounds by requiring individuals to purchase health insurance.

“If they can force you to buy a product, where does it end?” Mr. Longstreth said. “Can it dictate what you eat? Where you live? Where you can drive?”

The federal mandate goes into effect in 2014, when statewide insurance exchanges are supposed to go in operation. Mr. Kasich has said he is proceeding with putting the health exchanges in place in Ohio despite his personal opposition to the Obama plan.

Opponents of the proposed amendment include liberal groups. They say the amendment drive continued a misinformation campaign surrounding the health care overhaul by keeping the public agitated instead of educating people on the law’s effects.

Those opponents have volunteers independently checking signatures and plan on filing a challenge, ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg said in a statement.

They have until Aug. 5 to file any challenges. If a challenge is successful, proponents of the amendment would have 10 days to collect more signatures.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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