Health care ruling could impact fall races

To the loud cheers of Democrats and lusty boos of Republicans, the partisan battle over health care reform came to a head last week when the United States Supreme Court upheld the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The ruling on the ACA, more commonly known by the term Obamacare since this was a major priority of President Barack Obama, was one of the most closely watched Supreme Court verdicts in the last 10 years. And while the court upheld the constitutionality of key parts of the law, including the mandate that people buy health insurance, the battle over the law could now be headed right back to the political arena. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would repeal the law on “day one” and other Republicans are following suit with their own calls for repeal.

Health care could again become an issue in the upcoming fall Congressional elections, two of which involve town residents.

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4), a Cos Cob resident, was one of the votes in favor of the ACA. He is running for his third term this fall against businessman Steve Obsitnik.

Mr. Himes famously dedicated his vote in favor of the ACA to the memory of former Greenwich Democratic Town Committee Chairman David Roberson, who was killed in a car accident in 2010 just weeks before the vote on the bill was cast. Mr. Roberson had been without health insurance at the time of his death and Mr. Himes said on the floor of the House of Representatives that a check up could have potentially addressed the heart ailment that caused him to lose control of his car.

In an interview with the Post this week, Mr. Himes acknowledged that this was an emotional vote for him and that he was happy to see it withstand the Supreme Court challenge. He added, though, that emotion was a “double edged sword” because emotion had also led to the overheated rhetoric around the ACA and the “outright lies” that it would establish the infamous “death panels.” He said that the decision by the court was a good one, not for him, but for the millions of Americans like Mr. Roberson who wouldn’t have had health insurance but will have it under the ACA.

“It’s a relief to me that health care reform will save hundreds of thousands of lives and improve services for millions of Americans,” Mr. Himes told the Post. “This isn’t about whether I’m relieved about my vote in favor of it but whether this is going to help Americans. [The Supreme Court decision] is a good thing for Americans with a pre-existing condition that will no longer be denied health coverage.”

Despite the good news, Mr. Himes, who is facing a re-election campaign this November, said “this is no time for complacency” and urged people to be vigilant to fight against a potential repeal. Mr. Himes said based on his conversations with constituents health care is an issue, along with others like Iraq and European stability, that are “far and away” behind the American economy and jobs. He said he wasn’t sure if Mr. Obsitnik would bring it up during the campaign.

“I’ve always been very level-headed about the health care reform,” Mr. Himes said. “It started us down a very long road toward creating a health care system that will provide affordable coverage to Americans. It is not a perfect bill and I have criticized it when necessary. If my opponent is like Mitt Romney will he say that we need to repeal and replace it without offering any kind of alternative? Mitt Romney has not offered any kind of new plan and I haven’t heard any other Republicans offering one up either. You don’t get to criticize without being able to present an alternative.”

Mr. Obsitnik’s campaign released a statement last Thursday urging the people to take action if they did want the law repealed.

“I recognize and respect the Supreme Court’s constitutional authority,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “Yet, given the public’s prevailing attitudes towards the Affordable Care Act, the future of this issue rests solely with the American people.”

Mr. Himes added that while repeal has been put on the table by Republicans the “stars would need to line up for it to happen.” Not only would Mr. Romney need to be elected president but the Republicans would need a 60-vote majority to stop any potential Democratic filibuster of a repeal and even the most optimistic party projections for the new Senate do not have Republicans reaching that 60-vote threshold as of right now.

He further said that even if Republicans did get 60 votes in the Senate it would be difficult to repeal health care.

“I don’t think they’re going to want to go out and explain to people with pre-existing conditions why they suddenly lost their health care,” Mr. Himes said. “They’re not going to want to take coverage away from people who need it and wouldn’t otherwise have it. As time passes more and more people are going to see the benefits of this bill.”

A Republican hoping to be part of a new GOP Senate majority is Linda McMahon, a Greenwich resident seeking to replace the retiring Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Ct.) this fall. At an appearance at a weekly community coffee sponsored by the Post’s sister paper The Darien Times in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision, Ms. McMahon said last Thursday that she was disappointed in the ruling and called the ACA a “bait and switch” claiming that it actually raised health care costs after promising to lower them.

“It puts a burden on our middle class, it puts a burden on our businesses and our seniors as well,” Ms. McMahon told The Darien Times. “It’s just going to cost across the board, health care, and increase taxes. And I will, if I’m elected in November— when I am elected in November — I will be one of those who will vote to repeal it and replace it with the things that we need.”

In both her comments last week and in a follow up with the Post on Tuesday, Ms. McMahon said there needs to be health care reform but that state and federal mandates will continue to push costs up, a contention that has been disputed by ACA supporters. In a statement to the Post, Ms. McMahon did not offer a specific plan, but did say there should be reform based around individuals and families having the ability to make “their own choices” in selecting insurance plans and doctors and in making health decisions.

While there has yet to be any indication the ACA would remove those choices from individuals, Ms. McMahon said there needs to be a new plan that allows for accessibility, portability and affordability which allows for comparison shopping of insurance plans to create competition in the marketplace, removal of “regulatory burdens” that she believes are driving up costs, ending mandates that require insurance companies provide benefits she believes people would not want to buy on their own and tort reform to “discourage unnecessary medical malpractice lawsuits that drive insurance costs higher and encourage overuse of the health care system.”

“A safety net must be in place for those who cannot provide for themselves,” the McMahon campaign said. “It’s important that health insurance addresses the needs of the entire family. Health care reform should ensure families and doctors make health care decisions, not Washington bureaucrats.”

U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-5), Ms. McMahon’s likely Democratic opponent put out a statement on Thursday after the ruling, saying, “… the Supreme Court did the right thing.”

“Now that the law has been upheld, we know for certain that seniors will pay less for their drugs at the pharmacy, sick people will never be denied health insurance, small businesses will pay less to insure their employees, and the quality of health care will increase over time for all Americans,” Mr. Murphy said. “I was a strong supporter of the bill because it was the right way to begin fixing a very broken health care system. Though this was a split decision by the court, it’s now time for Republicans to stop their attempts to repeal this bill, so that we can come together to implement it in a way that benefits Connecticut patients and taxpayers.”


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