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June 28, 2012

Vermont Politicos React to Health Care Ruling

SCOTUSThe news is in: The federal Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare") is here to stay, according to the much anticipated ruling the Supreme Court handed down today.

SCOTUS Blog is reporting that the court upheld nearly the entirety of the ACA in a 5-4 ruling, including an unpopular individual mandate that requires virtually every American to carry health insurance. Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding swing vote. 

Click here to read the actual opinion. Click here to read the excellent analysis of people who know more about these things than we do.

How are Vermonters reacting? Here's a smattering of comments gleaned from phone interviews and written statements.

Republican candidate for governor Randy Brock summoned reporters to the Hilton in Burlington less than an hour after t he ruling came out. Brock said he was less concerned about "Obamacare" than about "Titanicare" — his term for Gov. Peter Shumlin's "Green Mountain Care" single payer health care plan.

Today's Supreme Court decision only postpones the day of reckoning for Governor Shumlin's Titanicare health care law. Federal dollars can now temporarily plug the huge holes the Governor's plan will generate in Vermont's budget. Let's be frank about this: Titaniccare will sink and take all of us with it. It's just going to sink a teeny bit slower with this subsidy and nobody, not even Governor Shumlin, believes the subsidy will last forever. Vermonters better start asking the Governor and his allies in the legislature to explain before this upcoming election how they're going to rescue us passengers.

Full steam ahead?

In fact, that's exactly how Cassandra Gekas, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor and a longtime health care advocate for VPIRG, put it in her own statement this morning. 

Millions of Americans breathed a collective sigh of relief this morning. The Court's decision means parents can keep their children covered, seniors can afford life-saving prescription drugs, and individuals can't be blacklisted because of a pre-existing conditions. ... And in Vermont, it's full steam ahead. The ACA will provide us with the critical resources we need to bring high quality, affordable health care to every Vermonter.

Meanwhile, Vermont's chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business weighed in glumly, calling the court's decision to uphold the "heavy-handed individual mandate" a "deep disappointment to small businesses everywhere." NFIB Vermont State Director Shawn Shouldice said in a statement, "The ruling is especially disappointing to Vermont small businesses because it gives a green light to the controversial health care reform experiment to which the state is now committed."

Not so fast, says Rep. Michael Fisher (D-Lincoln), who chairs the House Health Care Committee. 

I was bracing myself for more dismantling of the health care reform effort on the federal level, so I'm a little surprised, but I'm also very happy about the outcome. ... It keeps us on the track that we've articulated and planned [in Vermont].

Had the ACA been knocked down, achieving reform in Vermont would have been much harder, Fisher says, because the state could  have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in funding each year to help pave the way for a single-payer health care system. Vermont's Democratic party agrees, saying in a statement this morning that the ruling gives Vermont "even more momentum behind our efforts towards creating an affordable and accessible health care system."

Wendy Wilton, the Republican candidate for state treasurer, took a measured approach to the ruling, arguing that the Supreme Court's decision ultimately doesn't have a huge bearing on Vermont. The state still needs to draw up detailed estimates about what a single-payer health care plan might cost the state.

I can't say I was surprised. I think the court tried to really strike a centrist decision ... I think that's a great challenge to do when there's been so much rhetoric from the far left and the far right on the issue. But if I bring it back to Vermont ... I think their decision also reinforces the need for us here to develop good fiscal projections alongside the health care policy development.

(Wilton's own projections about the potential cost of Green Mountain Care have earned the disdain of single-payer advocates (who say her numbers are flat-out wrong) and praise of reform opponents who say her analysis proves single-payer health care could bankrupt Vermont.

John McClaughry, vice president of the conservative Ethan Allen Institute, takes issue with the fact that the court found the individual mandate constitutional by interpreting penalties for failing to obtain insurance as a tax. He says the government can, arguably, impose a tax on almost anything, but that President Obama balked at the prospect of selling a new federal tax to the public. 

The upshot is that, thanks to the court, America now has a new federal tax on personal behavior that Congress never enacted. I’m waiting for candidate Obama to boldly defend the idea of a new federal tax on people’s existence as a strong reason for his reelection. Lots of luck with that.

Vermont's congressional delegation weighed in, predictably, with resounding support of the decision, though Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also says the law doesn't go far enough:

I am proud that Vermont is making steady progress toward implementing a single-payer system. I hope our state will be a model to show the rest of the nation how to provide better care at less cost to more people.

A statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy's office points out that Vermonters have already benefited in great numbers from the Affordable Care Act. Leahy's office estimates that 5000 young adults in Vermont have gained health insurance under their parents' plans because the law allows children under 26 to remain on their parents' plans. Also under the ACA, Leahy says more than 7000 Medicare recipients have received $250 rebates to help cover the cost of prescription drugs. Meanwhile, 115,000 Vermonters with private health insurance have qualified for preventative services (such as an annual physical) without paying a deductible or copay. The state has also received nearly $40 million to support efforts to implement health reforms in Vermont.

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