Last year, the Health Care Freedom Amendment (HCFA) passed both houses of the Wyoming Legislature with greater than 2/3 majority, the requirement to send a constitutional amendment to the people of Wyoming. The amendment will be on the November 2012 ballot and, given Wyoming’s stance on Obamacare, will probably beat Ohio’s recent passage rate for its own HCFA. But just one year after the HCFA came out of Legislature, a new bill contradicts it.
Wyoming’s HCFA went through a long political process to reach ratification. It reads as follows:
(a) Each competent adult shall have the right to make his or her own health care decisions. The parent, guardian or legal representative of any other natural person shall have the right to make health care decisions for that person.
(b) Any person may pay, and a health care provider may accept, direct payment for health care without imposition of penalties or fines for doing so.
(c) The legislature may determine reasonable and necessary restrictions on the rights granted under this section to protect the health and general welfare of the people or to accomplish the other purposes set forth in the Wyoming Constitution.
(d) The state of Wyoming shall act to preserve these rights from undue governmental infringement.
Part (c) is the most dangerous portion of the HCFA because it gives the legislature the power to abridge health care freedom, but it is as cautious as possible against governmental infringement: legislative restrictions must be both reasonable and necessary to protect the health and general welfare of the people. (For a full analysis of the HCFA, see my Liberty Brief from last May.)
Although the HCFA has not yet been ratified by the people, the same Wyoming Legislature that passed it with 2/3 majorities last year makes up this year’s Budget Session. Alas, one bill, Senate File 54 (SF54), would go against the purpose of the HCFA, and if justified under section (c) could work to nullify the HCFA in its entirety.
SF54 would require any college student in Wyoming to be vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis in order to attend. The only exceptions are for religious objection or medical “contraindication” (i.e., an allergy to vaccines). When introducing the bill, Senator Bill Landen stated that this is necessary because Wyoming colleges—the University of Wyoming in particular—draw students from many states and foreign countries. This, he believes, makes colleges ripe for an outbreak.
Meningococcal meningitis is a serious disease, and is contagious. However, this concern cannot trump health care freedom or the HCFA. From 2001-2011, there were only 26 reported cases of the disease in Wyoming, or an average of 2-3 per year. (For comparison, in 2010 two people were killed by lightning here in Wyoming.) According to the Centers for Disease Control, meningococcal vaccines “do not prevent all cases.” So, this law is far from necessary to protect the health and general welfare of Wyomingites, and it is also not reasonable. If it were reasonable and necessary, just about any possible scenario of disease would justify forcing immunizations (or putting individuals in a position where they have to comply or sacrifice something like education).
Section (c) of the HCFA must be reserved for serious public health concerns. If an outbreak of meningococcal meningitis (or another terrible disease) were to occur, it would be within the state’s police power to quarantine individuals or groups and immunize exposed individuals to protect the populace. What the state may not do under the HCFA is attempt to address every health concern before it’s actually a concern: that is, unfortunately, SF54 in a nutshell.
A similar bill to SF54 was introduced last year and failed 8-22 in the Senate. This year, however, instead of appropriating tax money, the bill “merely” forces students to get the vaccine, adding to the already high cost of education. Hopefully, with the HCFA in mind, SF54 gets the same reception as last year.