In the space of two hours last week, two polar political opposites weighed-in on the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court could scrub benefits for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans, if they rule that federal subsidies going to people in states where the Affordable Care Act [ACA] is run by the Federal government are unconstitutional.
The case the high court will hear in March, called King v. Burwell, argues that the wording of the Affordable Care Act means that financial assistance with premiums is available only in the 13 states that created and are running their own online insurance exchanges. Ohio is not one of the original 13 states, because Gov. John Kasich and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor deemed it too expensive for Ohio to set its own healthcare exchange, instead letting Washington fund it. The governor has said the ACA is flawed, but he has no workable replacement for it in spite of GOP calls to remove it “root and branch.” Ohio’s lieutenant governor, who also heads the state insurance department that “regulates” private healthcare insurance providers, is also very opposed to the ACA, blaming the act passed by Congress for rising premiums and insurance coverage that not everyone needs or wants to pay for.
If the court sides with those challenging the law, millions of people in the 37 states that use the federal Healthcare.gov site would lose the help they have been getting so far. A decision in the case is expected in late June, The Hill reported.
I’m Not A Judge
Following a presentation last Wednesday at the Statehouse in downtown Columbus, new GOP Ohio House Speaker Speaker Clifford A. Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) was asked by OhioNewsBureau [ONB] whether he wants the court to side for or against the federal subsidies, and if the court sides against them, what his appetite, or the appetite of his robust majority caucus is to set up a state-run exchange so the hundreds of thousands of Ohioans, who enjoy private healthcare insurance premium relief, can still enjoy insurance they were unable to afford before the ACA became law in 2011.
Climate change deniers have suffered well-deserved ridicule when they decline to comment on whether the earth is warming due to man-made activity by using the new go-to response of “I’m not a scientist.” Speaker Rosenberger offered a new twist in not answering the question. “One, I’m not a judge, and thank goodness I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to answer. I’m not going to work on hypotheticals or worry about what’s coming. We’re worried about what’s now and doing the right thing so we can start planning for it,” he said.
Mr. Rosenberger then tossed the question to Rep. Barbara Sears of Toledo, who wasn’t as shy in answering. Commenting on what she called “Plan B” if the court does scuttle subsidies going to Ohioans and others who signed up in a federally run healthcare exchange, Rep. Sears said, “We’re following it very closely. Even if the exchanges stand and federal subsides continue, what is the right thing for Ohio to do. We’re looking at healthcare compacts, is that potentially right for Ohio to look at, we’re looking at updating new rules to make them more appropriate for businesses to join together to get benefits. We’ve reconstructed some of the navigator language after the ACA came in, we may choose appropriate firewalls to put in place so the state would not be in a position to have a state run exchange. And I don’t see any inclination to change that idea. State exchanges for those that have them, you’ll find they don’t function well and are dramatically more expensive than they should be.” In a follow-up discussion with ONB at today’s legislative presentation, Rep. Sears, who also is not a judge, said she wants the court to scrub the subsidies.
Two hours later, in a conference call with reporters, Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s senior senator in Washington, acknowledged that he too wasn’t a judge. But unlike Speaker Rosenberger, Sen. Brown came out with guns blazing. “Republicans in the legislature and on the court have done everything they can to undermine the law,” he said. Continuing, Brown said Republicans will have to explain “why they’re taking away health insurance to 100,000 young people still on their parent’s healthcare plan—they’ll have to explain to families with a diabetic children why they’re being denied health coverage, they’ll have to explain to that family that their insurance has gone way—they’ll have to explain to 100,000 Ohio seniors who are saving on their prescription drugs why that’s going away—they’ll have to explain why their will again be co-pays for some services the ACA made free to seniors. Fundamentally, that’s the question, why are you taking these benefits away from so many Ohioans.”
Americans Want Healthcare.gov Subsidies
Meanwhile, a new tracking poll released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that most people think Congress or states should act to restore health insurance subsidies if the Supreme Court decides later this year they are not permitted in states where the federal government is running the marketplace. Not surprisingly, Democrats and Independents are most strongly in favor of ensuring that subsidies are available in every state if the court rules otherwise. What may be a surprise to Ohio’s GOP leadership is that 40 percent of Republicans said Congress should act to address the issue, and 51 percent of Republicans said states should act if the Supreme Court makes subsidies unavailable in states using Healthcare.gov.