Perhaps not surprisingly, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote on Thursday upholding most of President Barack Obama’s landmark health care reform was greeted warmly in the East End medical community and with mixed reactions from East End congressional candidates.
The court largely let stand the Affordable Care Act that called for the creation of a nationwide insurance system that would greatly lower the number of Americans who lack coverage.
One main issue was the so-called individual mandate, which would require all Americans to get health insurance or pay a fine. The Obama administration said the mandate is necessary to fix flaws in the insurance market as well as to allow those with “pre-existing conditions” to get insurance. Republicans, on the other hand, claimed the health care reform, which they often refer to derogatorily as “Obamacare,” would be an unconstitutional expansion of federal power.
The decision did restrict one big piece of the overhaul, however, and that was the expansion of Medicaid, the government health-insurance program for people within certain income limits. The court’s ruling allows states some leeway not to expand their Medicaid programs without paying the penalties that would have been required under the overhaul.
Southampton Hospital officials this week forwarded information that the court decision makes it possible to extend health insurance coverage to 32 million Americans.
In a phone interview last Thursday, shortly after the ruling, Robert Chaloner, the CEO of Southampton Hospital and the new spokesman for the East End Health Alliance–which comprises Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, expressed optimism with the court’s action. He is the new spokesman by virtue of his chairmanship title on the alliance’s CEO Council, a position that rotates every two years. “Number one, I’m just glad there’s closure to the issue because the uncertainty when you’re trying to plan is very, very difficult,” he said. “so I’m glad that there’s settlement and that we can move forward.”
He said he is confident and happy that certain aspects of health care, such as the need for providers to continue to reduce costs, for doctors and hospitals to become more affiliated with one another and for the computerization of health records, will continue.
“If the decision results in more people getting insurance and coverage, I think that’s a good thing,” Mr. Chaloner said, but also expressed a note of caution.
“There’s a lot of complexity still. We have to watch how it plays out over the next couple of years,” he said. “But the thing I feel good about is I think we’re taking the right steps here locally.”
East End Congressional candidates also weighed in on the decision.
Democratic U.S. Representative Tim Bishop issued a statement saying the decision, which upholds the so-called “individual mandate” requiring most Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine, “compels us to finally put aside the political wrangling over the Affordable Care Act and move forward to fully implement reforms that will control costs while improving quality of care.”
He said the reform will allow Americans to have secure and affordable coverage regardless of pre-existing health conditions, age, gender or employment status. “I call on my colleagues to work in a bipartisan manner to address the challenges facing our economy and abandon the symbolic effort to repeal a law that was fully debated in Congress and has been deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court.”
But Republican Randy Altschuler, who is looking to unseat Mr. Bishop in November, issued a statement saying he strongly disagrees with the ruling, cited it as a reason to oust Mr. Bishop, and pledged to work for repeal of the measure. “President Obama and incumbent Washington politician Tim Bishop must be held accountable this November for forcing Suffolk County’s working families, small businesses and seniors on a fixed income to shoulder the $500 billion in tax increases and $500 billion in Medicare cuts in this law that will further cripple our economy and slow job creation,” his statement said. “Now, more than ever, if you want to change Congress, you need to start by changing your congressman.”
Mr. Altschuler suggested enabling insurance companies to compete across state lines and allow small businesses to pool together to buy health care for their employees.