Washington — The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act has done nothing to close the chasm of public and political opinion about the health care overhaul.
As hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the high court cheered or jeered the decision, Republicans in Congress voiced renewed commitment to overturn the law that is backed by Connecticut’s Democratic lawmakers.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision does not mark an end to the debate, it marks a new start on the road to repeal,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Saying the Supreme Court’s decision strengthened his resolve to get rid of the ACA, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has scheduled a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act for the week of July 9.
Meanwhile Connecticut’s lawmakers joined other jubilant Democrats who saw their support of the Affordable Care Act vindicated Thursday.
“The Supreme Court did the right thing, and today, Connecticut residents can have confidence that they will get better and more affordable care in the years to come,” said Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3nd District, called the Supreme Court decision “a victory for the American people.”
“The uncertainty created by the false questioning of the act’s legality has been settled and states, insurance companies and businesses can move forward and keep carrying out the important health care and consumer protection provisions contained in the law,” she said.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2rd District, said, “Congress debated, the Supreme Court decided, and now the implementation of the Affordable Care Act can move forward.”
Many Democrats, including Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said they would work to modify the law.
“I look forward to seeing continued progress as the remainder of the new law goes into effect and we tweak the law to continue to slow the growth of health care spending,” Himes said.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said he was pleased with the ACA’s vindication, but said, “there are many outstanding issues surrounding this law that will demand Congress’ attention in the years ahead.”
To Lieberman those included “accommodation of religious concerns” — some religious groups, especially the Catholic Church, oppose the law’s requirement that all health plans provide birth control.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also said the law needed tinkering. But he said he hoped Republicans in Congress woud end their attempts to scrap the law.
“There is a panoply of patient protections that I will fight to preserve if there is an continuing assault on the law and an effort to repeal it,” Blumenthal said.
In a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court decided the individual mandate requiring everyone to have health insurance in 2014 that was challenged be ACA opponents is not, as the administration argued, a valid exercise of Congress’ power under the commerce clause of the Constitution.
But it said Congress was within its rights to punish those who don’t purchase insurance by imposing a penalty though Congress’ taxing authority.
Republicans, including Linda McMahon and former Rep. Chris Shays, who are challenging Murphy for a seat in the U.S. Senate, jumped on the interpretation of that penalty as a tax.
“(Americans) were told that it would not increase taxes. It does,” McMahon said.
Roberts was joined in the decision on the mandate by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
The Supreme Court found one part of the ACA unconstitutional — its expansion of the Medicaid program, a health care plan for the poor that is paid jointly between the federal government and the states. The court ruled the federal government can’t punish states by withholding existing federal Medicaid funds to states that decline to expand coverage.
The decision would not likely affect Connecticut’s plans because it supports an expansion of Medicaid and hopes to save the state money by shifting poor people currently covered under a state health care program into Medicaid.
But the decision was a victory for the 26 states that challenged the law because they did not want to expand their Medicaid programs.
And it was a blow to the Obama administration’s efforts to provide millions of Americans who are uninsured with health care coverage. About half of the nation’s 40 million uninsured were to be covered by the expansion of Medicaid.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision, the reforms already implemented by the ACA can stay in place. Parents will still be able to keep their children on their insurance plans up to age 26, and Medicare recipients will keep getting discounts on prescription drugs to close a gap in coverage known as the “doughnut hole.” In addition, those with chronic conditions will no longer be hit by lifetime or annual limits on coverage.
Jeremy Paul, dean of the University of Connecticut’s law school, called Thursday “a great day for America” because the high court considered a very political issue on the basis of its merit under the law.
“The arguments against the law were flimsy,” Paul said.