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Pols will keep talking about Obamacare—but it's here to stay

Thursday, June 25, 2015
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Democrats are offering fist bumps and high fives while simultaneously jumping for joy.

Republicans are mumbling something about wait till next year—when they're saying anything at all.

That's the political reaction to today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a central tenet of the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare): the ability of the feds to subsidize premium payments for people who purchase health insurance through the federal exchange when their state doesn't offer its own exchange.

Typical was the exchange of statements between U.S. Rep. Bob Dold, a Republican, and the man trying to unseat him and get his old job back next year, Democrat Brad Schneider.

ACA "has made historic progress toward creating a better health care system for all Americans. . . .I applaud the Supreme Court for continuing this progress," Schneider said. "With Obamacare now having been upheld multiple times by the Supreme Court and having survived countless attempts at repeal by congressional Republicans, including Bob Dold, it's time to move forward and work to improve this law instead of engaging in endless, counterproductive political games."

Responded Dold: "While I've never questioned the good intentions of those who brought us the ACA, the partisan process by which it was rushed through Congress produced a law that continues to drive up premiums and deductibles. . . .The Supreme Court's decision today in no way ends Washington's responsibility to implement the serious, bipartisan reforms to the law that are needed to drive down costs, restore access to care and make health care work for everyone."


Then there were these dueling press releases from Illinois' U.S. senators:

"The Supreme Court historically upholds the president's signature law, so today's ruling is not surprising," Republican Mark Kirk said. "I believe there is still room to advance bipartisan reforms of this law to keep health care costs down and expand access to care."

"Memo to the non-stop critics of the ACA: Stop trying to kill this program and work to make it stronger," Democrat Dick Durbin thundered. "The Supreme Court's decision protects the health insurance of 240,000 Illinoisans and 6.5 million Americans nationwide. America will not return to the days when millions were uninsured and the cost of health care was out of control."

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, whose budget depends heavily on expanded Medicaid payments from the health care law, credited Obamacare with saving local taxpayers $200 million a year.

"Thanks to the ACA, we are moving toward long-term financial sustainability for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System," she said in a statement, with 180,000 patients now enrolled in the county's managed Medicaid program.

But GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, voiced a common reaction among conservatives.

"Today's ruling by the Supreme Court is yet another reminder that if we are to rid our nation of Obamacare once and for all, we need to elect a conservative president prepared to lead on day one. As president, I will be committed to repealing the monstrosity of Obamacare and replacing it with a patient-centered program."

Actually, I agree with Santorum—in part.

The court challenges are over. Done. Obamacare is the law, and the courts aren't going to change that.

But I doubt elected politicians will act to radically change it, either. As the number of people in the system rises well into the millions—and as even some Republicans say they want to keep features like a ban on insurers dinging those with pre-existing conditions—it's increasingly obvious that this program is not going to be repealed. Or, I suspect, significantly altered, though some tweaks are needed.

As the Chicagoan who is president put it in the White House this morning, after a century of talk about national health care and dozens of efforts to repeal the ACA, the act "is here to stay."

12:45 p.m. update— One more piece of reaction, this from Rep. Tammy Duckworth, one of the Democrats running to oppose Sen. Kirk next year:

“The Supreme Court's decision is a major win for my constituents,” she said in a statement. “Members on both sides of the aisle need to come together to continue building on the gains made through the ACA, fixing the parts that need improvement and ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable and quality health insurance. Endless litigation in the courts and countless votes to repeal the law is a partisan and wasteful exercise that does not serve the needs of my constituents."

4:15 p.m. update— I’ll give the last word of the day to Schneider, commenting on Dold’s comment.

From a statement: "While Bob Dold talks about bipartisan solutions, his record shows a long history of siding with all the other Republicans in Congress to repeal, defund, or dismantle Obamacare more than thirty times—including three times in the past few months . . . Despite the unrelenting effort of Republicans, including Bob Dold, to undermine and misrepresent this law, the Supreme Court has yet again affirmed its legal status."

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