Asbury Park Press

Court Decision On Health Law Doesn't End Political Fighting

Asbury Park Press — Friday, June 29, 2012

Written by
Ken Serrano

The clashing emotions that followed the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on President Barack Obama's health care law left Barbara Gonzalez elated, deflated and reinvigorated.

The head of the Bayshore Tea Party Group in Red Bank initially thought the Supreme Court struck down what's known as the "individual mandate," the provision that requires nearly everyone to buy health insurance or pay a fine.

But when the smoke cleared and it became apparent that the information in a television broadcast was incorrect, she absorbed the news that the controversial portion of the law that she detests was essentially upheld.

Gonzalez said there has been a spike in support from people angered over the bill.

"A lot of people asked how to join the Tea Party," she said. "We know what we have to do now."

The response of Gonzalez and others to the high court ruling proved one thing: the debate over the revamping of the health care system is far from over.

Gonzalez knocked the response of supporters of the law, saying they simply do not know the upshot of what they hoped for.

"Do they know what they won? They did not win a door prize here," she said.

For supporters of the law, there were no regrets.

"A lot of people in the press will be calling this a victory for President Obama," said Jeff Brown, spokesman for New Jersey Citizen Action. "The real winners are the 30 million people who are now going to be guaranteed access to quality and affordable health care coverage. This takes health care decisions out of insurance company board rooms and puts them back at the kitchen table and in doctors' offices."

Brown said his group, which calls itself the state's largest citizen watchdog coalition, will continue to push New Jersey lawmakers to put the law in place.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the most sweeping overhaul of the health care system in almost 50 years, aims to shrink the rolls of the uninsured. It does that partly by expanding eligibility for Medicaid, raising to 26 the age that dependents can stay on their parents' insurance plans, and barring insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing health conditions. The "individual mandate" was among the most controversial elements of the law.

"In essence it's another tax on the middle class," said Steve Lonegan of the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a small-government conservative advocacy group. "We're very disappointed. The last thing this country needs is a heavy new tax burden."

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., in a conference call with reporters, called the measure a "tax cut for those who have insurance," saying people now pay higher premiums because of the uninsured.

The original health care law called for state programs to provide Medicaid coverage by 2014 to adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Had they not, they would have jeopardized all their Medicaid coverage.

The ruling upheld that expansion as constitutional, but states would not lose all their Medicaid coverage if they opt out.

The expansion of Medicaid, as well as insurance subsidies, will reduce the number of uninsured by nearly 800,000 in New Jersey, according to the New Jersey Policy Perspective. As of 2010, nearly 1.3 million people in the state were without insurance, according to the advocacy group.

"All New Jerseyans scored a major victory today," said Raymond Castro, senior policy analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective. "For the first time, everyone now has a right to high-quality, affordable comprehensive health coverage and will no longer have to worry about going bankrupt to pay for medical bills."

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