Lawmakers voted 66-50 to approve a measure aiming to insulate state residents from the mandate requiring people to buy health care beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty. The Republican-backed bill also aims to force Attorney General Roy Cooper to join a federal lawsuit challenging the law.
But the victory margin casts doubt on whether the bill could survive a potential veto by Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat. The state constitution requires 60 percent of members in each chamber in attendance to override a veto, or as many as 72 of the 120-member House.
Three House Republicans were absent and Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, followed tradition and did not vote. Two Democrats joined the majority. The measure next moves to the Senate, where a similar bill was introduced Thursday.
The three-hour debate featured conflicting claims of how much the federal health care overhaul would raise or lower costs for average Americans and its governments, whether opinion polls show support or opposition to the law, and whether it crushes free choice or requires personal responsibility.
"This bill is somewhat about what you think about health care. It's somewhat about what you think about government. But it is more what you think about yourself. Are you a citizen or a child?" said House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake. "We're Americans. We're free people. We don't like these mandates."
Democrats said the measure could prevent hundreds of thousands of people from obtaining health insurance and contribute to the collapse of the concrete effort to cover millions of uninsured Americans.
The GOP legislation boiled down to how the country will manage to keep providing medical care as costs spiral and fewer companies provide coverage for their workers, said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange. Hospitals now cover the cost of treating people who can't pay by charging insured and self-pay patients more, he said.
The GOP-backed bill "is about the position that you have the right to pass on your medical costs to someone else," Hackney said. "Don't tell me you're not going to have any medical costs. This is not hardware, this is not furniture, this is not a house. This is medical care and you are going to purchase it whether you want to or not."
Other Democrats asked how Republicans planned to force Cooper, who is independently elected, to take on the federal law in court if he weighs against it.
"What are you going to do if the attorney general tells you to go fly a kite? What are you going to do to him?" asked Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham.
Republicans said the attorney general's responsibilities include representing the state in court, whether the elected official agrees with the law or not.
"I do believe he has a responsibility to support the statutes we have, and I believe he will," said Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston.
Cooper said last week he is responsible for upholding both state and federal laws, but in the case of a conflict federal law prevails. Unless the federal health law is found unconstitutional, he must enforce the individual mandate, Cooper said in a statement.