As if the message from Massachusetts were not clear enough, the Virginia state Senate passed a measure on Monday — with Democratic help — that would attempt to block any effort to make health insurance mandatory for citizens, a centerpiece of the Democratic overhaul now stalled on Capitol Hill.
If, as expected, the measure passes the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and is signed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, also a Republican, Virginia would become the first state to enact such a law. Similar bills have been introduced in 30 states, although most would submit the question to a referendum on a constitutional amendment.
That is the case in Arizona, which passed a similar ballot measure through both legislative houses last year. The constitutional amendment faces a popular vote in November.
The bills may be more symbolic than meaningful, as legal scholars question whether courts would enforce a state ban of federal law. But the measures have gained political momentum in several state capitals this year and have been subjected to hearings and committee votes in a number of legislatures.
The Virginia vote was 23 to 17, with five Democrats joining all 18 Republicans in the Democratic-controlled chamber. Virginia, along with New Jersey, replaced its Democratic governor with a Republican in voting in November; the elections were precursors to last month’s special election of Scott Brown, a Republican, to the Senate from Massachusetts.
“I was ecstatic and especially delighted that it was truly bipartisan,” said Clint Bolick, litigation director of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative policy group that supports the bills. “It’s amazing what a Massachusetts Senate election will do.”
The so-called individual mandate was considered central to the Congressional Democrats’ plan to ban insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of health condition or age. Insurers argued that if they had to cover everyone, everyone should have to be covered, thus expanding their customer base and risk pool.
But recent polls show the mandate to be one of the least popular components of the plan, with 62 percent of respondents in a Kaiser Family Foundation survey in January saying it would make them less likely to support the package.