His anti-health-reform ballot proposition won approval from Arizona voters Nov. 2, but the Glendale orthopedic surgeon behind the measure says his work against government control of health care is far from complete.
Dr. Eric Novack has drafted a document he's calling "A Blueprint for a Sustainable Safety Net Healthcare System." He plans on promoting it through the national U.S. Healthcare Freedom Coalition, which he leads.
"It's plainly evident already to the critics of the federal health-care law that not only were we right, but I think we perhaps underestimated the rapidity to which we'd be proven right," Novack said in a telephone interview last week.
Novack, 40, was behind this month's Proposition 106 - the Arizona Health Care Freedom Act - a constitutional amendment that takes aim at the mandate for health insurance under the new national health-care overhaul. It bars any law that forces people to participate in a specific health-care program, including insurance. It also says people can use their own money to buy any health service that's legal and that no government entity can stop them from doing so.
Critics say it's a destructive measure that will only end up costing the state expensive legal fees because it challenges a federal law. And many say it was carefully constructed by a few doctors trying to protect their salaries while not accounting for the uninsured.
As a self-described Goldwater Republican, Novack has a strong belief in a government with limited powers. And he believes that the system providing health care is as important as the health care itself. He authored a similar measure that was on the 2008 Arizona ballot but failed by a narrow margin.
"If you see five people with the exact same problem in one day, there are five different right answers," he said. "And the person who should decide which of those answers is best is not me. It's the patient and their family. We need conditions to protect that."
His health-reform act has served as a model across the country. Arizona is one of eight states that have passed similar anti-health-reform laws and constitutional amendments. Thirty-five other states have also introduced measures, Novack said.
"I think you can make a case to say it is among the most successful truly grass-roots legislative efforts in American history."
The Arizona Daily Star spoke with Novack about his plans now that Proposition 106 has passed. The following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: What exactly did 106 achieve? Will any of us see changes in our health care?
A: Not tomorrow, no. But for the first time in this country's history, citizens have explicit health-care protections in a state constitution. And there are no health-care protections in the federal constitution. Oklahoma's was a constitutional amendment as well. So Arizona and Oklahoma are the first in the country.
As we've said all along, there will be no change. The case we made is there is no change because these are rights we currently have. And that while we need health-care reform, it shouldn't be at the expense of patients' and families' being in charge of their own health. So there's no change on Day One.
Q: What will it achieve in the long term then?
A: Unfortunately, the federal government has passed a health-care law that has mandates and also severely limits the right of people to spend their own money. And so there will no doubt need to be a legal challenge so that the state can defend the rights of all of its residents. Remember, these are individual freedoms that are completely nondiscriminatory that are now basically the rights of everyone who lives in the state of Arizona.
There will be legal decisions that probably the Governor's Office and probably the Attorney General's Office, in consultation with the Legislature, will have to decide when to move forward with that. ... If we're successful, it doesn't mean they can't have federal health-care reform. It just means that if people in Arizona should choose not to participate in any way, they can't be penalized as a result, and they can't put in the fine print of the exchanges or anything else that people can't spend their own money.
Q: Where do you go from here?
A: We're still involved in the U.S. Health Freedom Coalition, of which I'm the head, and its major primary focus is to help promote the Health Care Freedom Act around the country and also to work to pass real, genuine reforms that seek to make health care more affordable and accessible. Not only at the state level.
Q: What other reforms?
A: It's really early in the process in terms of specific issues, and it's really an ongoing debate as to what things we're going to focus on, but we'll likely make a decision by January.
Q: What else in the new national health-reform law would you like to be changed?
A: I'd make a case that there's pretty much nothing in the federal health-reform law that will actually go to the fundamental goals of what we're trying to achieve - greater access to care at lower costs. The federal health-care law essentially in its entirety is going to move us further away from that direction. ... I've been using the term that the law is arbitrary capriciousness.
Q: Where would you like to see us in 2014 when the new national health reform is expected to fully take effect?
A: I'd like to have the federal health-care law repealed outright, and to have it replaced with real reforms that increase access and seek to begin to lower costs.
Q: What about your Blueprint for a Sustainable Safety Net Healthcare System?
A: Critics of 106 always said we don't believe in children, want people to die; it's fundamentally untrue. We need to view all the reforms in a basic context, which is that we need a sustainable safety net health-care system. ... You want a safety net system so that the fewest number of people possible need it. The interpretation is not that Novack wants to cut back eligibility requirements. The point is to say, what do we put in place so that the fewest number of people actually need it? That's how you make it sustainable first and foremost.
Q: What are you going to do with this blueprint?
A: It's in the early stages, and I don't have any delusions of grandeur. My megaphone is only so big. But it's early in the process. I need to put it in a format.
Q: You've influenced the national debate so far.
A: It's humbling, it's flattering to hear it. But as we've always said, it's a beginning. It's been step one. Step two is to build on that now that we have basic protections for patients. Now with the Health Care Freedom Act, people have a seat at the table. Now the issue is what reforms can we actually build that are genuine, so that the back-room conversations and shady side deals have the least chance at making things worse for patients.
Q: So you basically don't see national health reform as a done deal in terms of taking full effect in 2014.
Q: Do you want to expand on that?
A: I don't think I have to. It's not a done deal.
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134.