Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 3:31 PM on Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Reactions to health care ruling mixed



By PAT FORGEY
Morris News Service - Alaska

Alaska will reluctantly implement health care reform, while trying to shift costs to the federal government, Gov. Sean Parnell said last week following the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision upholding most of the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Parnell said the state may resist implementing parts of the legislation where that's legal and an option for the state.

Alaska had been one of 26 states suing to block implementation of the law, and Parnell made clear he is still philosophically opposed to it.

"When it comes to individual freedoms, and the individual mandate, we may have lost the battle but we are not going to stop fighting," he said.

The key provision upheld by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision was the requirement that everyone has health care coverage, or pay a tax penalty if they don't.

Parnell made clear his opposition to the bill critics call "Obamacare," but the Republican governor shied away from personalizing his criticisms as many of the law's harshest critics have done.

In a written statement about the ruling Obama was not mentioned. Speaking at a press conference in Anchorage June 28, Parnell only once used the term "Obamacare" while continuing to criticize the Affordable Care Act.

"This federal health care legislation will be implemented," Parnell said. "The Supreme Court deemed it constitutional, this was a political choice by the people's political representatives in Washington that made it so," he said.

Now the court has upheld the Affordable Care Act, Parnell said it would be up to political leaders in Washington to change it.

Parnell said he had not yet talked with legislative leaders about the state's response. The Legislature includes harsh critics of the Affordable Care Act, as well as President Obama, but they were unable to pass legislation in opposition in the last session.

The Legislature was quick to show its opposition, introducing House Bill 1 in 2011 at the start of the two-year session aimed at blocking its implementation in Alaska.

That bill, prepared by the conservative lobbying group American Legislative Exchange Council, would have tried to block the requirement for health care coverage in Alaska. It took until nearly the end of the 2102 session to pass the House and died in the Senate.

Its House passage was on a nearly party-line 24-16 vote, though Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, crossed party lines to join Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and most Democrats in voting against it.

Kerttula Thursday welcomed the Supreme Court's decision, and urged Parnell to help Alaskans get health care by implementing the act.

"I like freedom, what I don't like is seeing people losing their homes and losing their lives because they can't meet their child's medical bills," she said.

Parts of the heath care law that have already been implemented have boosted coverage for young people, prohibiting exclusions for pre-existing conditions for children and extending dependent coverage to age 26.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said that while he didn't know whether the Legislature would adopt optional parts of the health care law, he doubted there would be continued attempts to confront it directly.

"At this point the legislative process has played itself out," he said.

Reaction from the state's congressional delegation split along party lines, as did the original votes on the Affordable Care Act.

"While the law is not perfect, the status quo was not an option," said Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.

"Health care costs were skyrocketing and insurance companies were in charge of escalating those costs. There is still plenty of work to do, and I look forward to the State of Alaska moving forward on implementation," he said.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who sometimes crosses party lines, called the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the act "a new precedent in governmental overreach."

Republican Rep. Don Young, who had already voted in the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act, said he remained in opposition.

"Today's decision by the Supreme Court does not change the fact that ObamaCare sticks the American people with new taxes, new regulations and devastating cuts to Medicare," he said.

Parnell said Thursday that while his administration was still reviewing the 193-page ruling, an exercise expected to take weeks, his goal would be to implement the act at the lowest cost to the state.

"I will work to shift back to the federal government those costs it is imposing on our citizens," he said.

The federal government included money for the states to implement parts of the health care law, money that Alaska has in some cases rejected fearing it would come with burden

Parnell said he didn't know whether the state would begin accepting that money, but those decisions would have to be made later on a case-by-case basis.

One victory for opponents of the health care law was the Supreme Court's decision that the federal government could not threaten state's with loss of all their Medicaid funding if the refuse to expand the program in their states.

Parnell said Alaska might now reject the extra federal money, which funds the expansion at 100 percent for the first 3 years, but only 90 percent after that.

"With no penalty we need to rethink what we're going to do with Medicaid and the requirements that have been imposed by the act," he said.

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