It’s being compared to such landmark decisions as Roe vs. Wade and Brown vs. Board of Education.
In a 5-4 vote on Thursday, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, legislation introduced by President Barack Obama that has seen its share of heated debates within the walls of Congress.
Now with the blessings of the nation’s highest court, the measure can move forward. The Supreme Court based its ruling on the power of Congress to impose taxes. Five Justices agreed that the legislation’s “individual mandate” – one that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance by 2014 – is legal.
The news of the court’s decision prompted mixed reactions in the Roanoke-Chowan area. As many would expect, the local reaction to the decision was different on each side of the political aisle.
Bertie County Republican Party Chairman Garry Terry was disappointed with the decision while Anthony Saunders, who serves as head of the Democratic Party in Gates County, was elated.
“Like the majority of Americans that do not like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called ‘ObamaCare,’ I was disappointed by the decision,” Terry said. “However, I will not criticize the Court as our founding fathers created a system of government with checks and balances, along with periodic elections for good reason.”
Terry said the Supreme Court ruled, but also stressed that the November General Election would have much to do with whether or not the bill actually continues. The Republican leader said Obama’s path to reelection may have been altered by the decision.
“The President will now have to run on his broken promise of not raising taxes,” Terry said. “President Obama deceived the American people saying it was not a tax when, in reality, it is the most expansive tax increase in our history.”
Saunders, on the other hand, said the Supreme Court decision was beneficial for the country and solidified Obama’s place in history.
“I was excited,” he said of the decision. “I think everybody needs health care insurance. I think, no, I know the Supreme Court made the right decision.”
As for the historic effect, Saunders said he believed it was great.
“It is something we will look back on years and years from now and see the leadership it took to make this happen,” he said. “It is something that will be documented in our history books.”
One area the two opposition parties found common ground was that the decision would not end debate on the legislation.
“This won’t be the end of it,” Saunders said. “The Republicans have made it clear they will continue to fight it. The Supreme Court said what they have to say and I think they made the right decision. Most people are excited that it did happen.”
Terry agreed – for the most part.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “In fact, the ruling has awakened a sleeping giant. The public has overwhelmingly said they do not like government-run healthcare. The decision has struck a nerve with those of us who believe in limited government and lower taxes. It comes at a time when those who pay taxes are going to say ‘enough is enough’.”
Both Saunders and Terry agreed that Americans need health care, but the two – like the parties they represent – disagree on how it should happen.
“Health care is very important,” Saunders said. “I know a lot of people who simply don’t go to the doctor or to the hospital because they don’t have health insurance. It is something everyone needs to have.
“It is also important that parents will be able to keep their children on their health insurance until they are 26 years old,” he added. “It will be a load off of the parents.”
Terry said he didn’t believe the current form of health care reform would work.
“We believe in a free market without false government controls that artificially inflate prices and decrease services,” he said. “There are things that can be done to improve healthcare such as tax relief for people who purchase their insurance, providing tax relief for all people that purchase private health insurance, eliminating barriers to individuals purchasing health care coverage across state lines, allow employers to convert their healthcare compensation from a defined benefit package to a defined contribution system, promoting new group purchasing arrangements and improving consumer-driven health options, such as health savings accounts.”
Terry said he believed the current bill was an infringement on the rights of citizens.
“The political wind of the decision is not whether or not it is good or bad for President Obama or Governor Romney: it is bad for the American people,” he closed.
Giving what he called “a small town lawyer’s prospective,” Murfreesboro attorney Chuck Revelle, who also serves as legal counsel for Hertford County local government, said the decision was intriguing.
“The proponents of this law point to a staggering number of Americans who are without health insurance and to those who do have it, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions, they are at the mercy of the insurance company’s bureaucracy,” Revelle said. “They debated that all types of people need to be a part of the insurance pool in order to keep the insurance premiums from skyrocketing.”
Revelle said there were those in Congress who have argued all along that this wasn’t a tax issue.
“They said, using the veil of the commerce clause, that they could levy a fine against those Americans that chose not to purchase health insurance,” Revelle noted.
“On the flip side, the opponents of the law argued that Americans could not be forced by the federal government to purchase insurance….the same as telling a person what type of car he or she had to purchase or what brand of hot dogs to eat,” Revelle continued. “They saw it as an unconstitutional reach of federal power. There’s no provision in our Constitution that requires anyone to buy anything. If it was a requirement or mandate by the federal government, the opponents said it had to be considered as a tax.”
Revelle said the government lawyers were grilled by the Justices over the commerce clause.
“The government then completely flip-flopped, saying it was a tax and not a fine, directly opposite of what they said earlier in Congress,” Revelle said. “Now, by changing it from a fine to a tax and knowing that Congress has the authority to levy taxes, the Justices, in my opinion, were correct in their legal opinion to uphold the constitutionality of the issue at hand.”
However, Revelle sees another side of this national debate.
“The bigger issue for me is regardless of this being a tax or not, my concern is in the long run where in 10 or 20 years we may see one government health plan that will control medical issues and medical coverage,” he stressed. “It may deny or limit coverage in an effort to control costs. It may ration healthcare. That’s currently in the hands of the insurance bureaucracy, it will change to a government bureaucracy and that, to me, isn’t a pretty picture. It has the potential to impact the way private companies do business. It also paints out of the picture a doctor and a patient talking and deciding what’s the best healthcare option. Down the road that decision may wind up in the hands of a government bureaucrat.”
Kim Schwartz, CEO of Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center, said she likes the idea of expanding healthcare services to those now without insurance.
“I’m very pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision, pleased for our patients and pleased for our community,” she stated.
Schwartz said RCCHC’s mission all along is to serve the healthcare needs of local citizens, those with or without insurance or Medicaid.
“We’ll still serve those needs, no matter if a patient has private insurance, employer paid insurance, Medicaid, no insurance or a government controlled health insurance exchange,” she said. “We’ll see a move more strongly towards outcome based healthcare. This decision is comprehensive….behavioral health, dental care and primary care, all to ensure the health of body, mind and spirit.”
The legislation was approved and signed by Obama in 2010. Since that time, 26 of the 50 states and a trade group for small businesses tested the law through the legal system, eventually leading to Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling.