Thursday’s Supreme Court decision upholding the major aspects of the federal government’s healthcare reform bill received a mixed response from local leaders in Carter County and East Tennessee. Many elected and healthcare officials addressed their opinions on the high court’s decision throughout the day on Thursday.
Shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday morning, the United States Supreme Court publicly announced their decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010. The sweeping reform package, which has been informally referred to as “Obamacare” since it was first announced by President Barack Obama in 2009, requires Americans who are not covered by an employee-sponsored or government insurance plan to maintain health insurance coverage. In order to ensure that individuals obtain a health insurance policy, PPACA carries a financial penalty for those who do not purchase coverage.
Tennessee’s 1st District Congressman Dr. Phil Roe, a retired OB/GYN from Johnson City, held a phone conference with members of the local media a couple hours after the court’s announcement. The two-term congressman commented in a statement released on his website, “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a major let-down for the American people. I am truly disappointed with the decision because there does not seem to be a limit to what the federal government can compel us to do.”
Proponents of the legislation, including Roe, have argued that the individual mandate portion of the healthcare plan is unprecedented in American history. “I don’t think the federal government has ever forced the American people to have to buy something,” said Roe.
MSHA President Dennis Vonderfecht provided a more optimistic view of the Supreme Court’s decision. Speaking to members of the media Thursday afternoon, Vonderfecht said, “The one thing we are happy about is the fact that 32 million people who currently do not have coverage will be able to get coverage. That was a big concern for the healthcare industry,” he noted. “If the individual mandate went away and we don’t have some additional coverage for those people, how we were going to pay for healthcare (services) for them? I think, at least for the moment, that issue has been resolved.”
Vonderfecht added that much of the current political debate occurring between the two parties “is something of a sideshow because healthcare reform is happening. The healthcare provider system is moving reform forward.”
Despite the heated emotions concerning the new federal reforms and the Supreme Court’s decision, Vonderfecht argued that changes in the healthcare industry must take place. “This country cannot afford any longer to have it operate the way it has over the last several years. We currently take about 20 percent of the gross domestic product (for healthcare costs). That’s about twice what it is anywhere else in the world,” Vonderfecht said.
On a political level, Roe said Republican leadership in the House of Representatives is expected to conduct a vote on July 11 to overturn Obama’s healthcare reform bill. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), announced Thursday that the lower chamber will conduct a vote after returning from the July 4 holiday break. “It is a statement vote, but it is important that we draw a line on this issue,” Roe said.
Looking ahead to the November election, Roe believes PPACA will “define the election.” He noted that the healthcare reform package will provide a clear line between President Obama and the presumptive Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Romney, who supported a similar initiative during his time as Massachusetts’ chief executive, has chided Obama for his healthcare reform bill.
When Romney ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2008, however, he stated in numerous campaign appearances that he was “proud” of the accomplishment made in healthcare reform for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
While Republicans are expected to maintain control of the House in the upcoming election, the outcome for their bid to seize control of the Senate and the White House is uncertain. Roe said when the next Congress convenes in early January, he is hopeful that Obama’s healthcare package can be repealed. “Any reform package that we consider in Congress must be a bipartisan effort,” Roe contends. “Healthcare is not a partisan issue.”
Carter County 4th District State Representative Kent Williams told the Elizabethton STAR Thursday evening that he was extremely surprised about the court’s decision. “Quite frankly, I was shocked,” said Williams. “I had been saying for weeks now that I believed it would be overturned by a 5-4 vote. I based that on the fact there are five conservatives and four liberals on the bench.”
Williams said he was also surprised that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts voted in favor of upholding the law. “Justice Roberts apparently voted his conscience. We all may not agree with what he did, but I do respect him for voting his conscience instead of making a decision based on political pressure.”
The former Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives also commented that he believes it is far too early to determine what impact the federal healthcare reform will have on the Volunteer State and Carter County. He did indicate that he believes the decision may have a positive impact on many Carter Countians who currently do not have health insurance coverage. “I saw one study that indicated that nearly 5,600 county residents may be eligible for Medicaid because of the federal reform package. If that turns out to be the case, I believe many people will start to change their opinion about it,” Williams said.