Virginia may become one of the first states to shield its residents from a proposed federal requirement that they purchase health insurance.

A bill that cleared the Commonwealth's Democratic-controlled Senate -- and could soon win approval in the Republican-dominated lower House -- would exempt Virginians from congressional lawmakers' proposed individual mandate.


That requirement is a key feature in Democrats' stalled healthcare reforms, members say. While lawmakers could still strip it from their final bill as negotiations continue, Democratic party leaders have long maintained it is essential to ensure universal coverage and ultimately drive down national healthcare costs.

However, the mandate has proven exceptionally unpopular to healthcare critics on both the left and right. Liberals feel the mandate functions as a gift to private insurers, who would profit from an insurance requirement not linked to a public healthcare plan. Meanwhile, conservatives stress such a requirement is beyond federal lawmakers' constitutional powers -- a argument some GOP attorneys general could soon bring before courts.

That trepidation, combined, prompted Virginia to move this year to exempt local residents from the individual mandate -- a proposal that already seems to have Gov. Bob McDonnell's early support.

"I think the General Assembly is doing what they believe is right for the citizens of Virginia," McDonnell (R) told reporters on Monday. "And, like them, I oppose these broad, costly federal mandates that undermine the ability of Virginians to create more access at less cost."

Last year, McDonnell signaled more clearly he would support such an exemption.

But Virginia is hardly the only state to pursue such a measure. Since last year, 28 other states have introduced legislation or filed ballot measures that would in some way limit the effect of Democrats' healthcare bills, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. However, the constitutionality of each of those measures -- Virginia included -- remains in question.