RI reaction to Affordable Care Act ruling

PROVIDENCE, RI – State officials in charge of implementing the president's health insurance law are reacting with a mixture of relief and happiness to the Supreme Court ruling upholding most of the Affordable Care Act.

Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, who chairs the commission charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act in Rhode Island, says the Supreme Court decision means 120,000 Rhode Islanders lacking insurance will have it as of January 1st 2014. Rhode Island, she says, is further ahead than most states in developing a health insurance exchange, which is an online marketplace where people can buy health insurance at group rates.

"Really excited that the path Rhode Island has been on implementing the Affordable Care Act is the path we will stay on," says Roberts. "Moving forward with the development of the exchange, moving forward in how we re-design our system, expand access to coverage and work toward affordability of coverage. And this ruling today really keeps us on that path."

Christine Ferguson is the state's newly appointed director of the health benefits exchange. She called this the happiest day of her life.

(Click on the audio icon to hear RIPR's Flo Jonic talk with Lt. Gov. Roberts about how this affects Rhode Island.)

Impact on Rhode Island
State figures show 11 percent of adults and 6 percent of children in Rhode Island lack health insurance. The State Department of Labor and Training reports that the number of full-time workers covered by their employer has dropped, and so has the number of businesses that fully covered their workers. The DLT says in 2005 and 2007, 79 percent of full-time workers received health insurance through their employer, that number dropped to 73 percent in 2009 and 2011. About a quarter of businesses in Rhode Island paid the entire cost of coverage for their workers in 2005, while in 2011 that number has dropped to less than 15 percent.

Figures out of the White House show there are more than 7,500 Rhode Islanders between 18 - 26 who will be able to hold on to their coverage through their parents' insurance plans. And there are about 54,000 children in Rhode Island with pre-existing conditions who will cannot be denied coverage due to those illnesses.

Opposition Reaction
The Republican National Committee says the only way to roll back the healthcare law is to elect a new president. And a national small business group is expressing disappointment in the Supreme Court's ruling. Bill Vernon heads the Rhode Island chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. He says the court decision means politicians and bureaucrats will make the personal healthcare decisions for Rhode Islanders. Vernon says mandates, taxes and burdens in the healthcare law will overwhelm small businesses.

State Republican chairman Mark Zaccaria says he's surprised the Supreme Court has decided to expand the power of the federal government. Zaccaria says he thinks the court ruling on the healthcare law is inconsistent with the vision of the founding fathers.

"I think that what we now have is an absolutely clear referendum for the November election," says Zaccaria. "What we have is a clear choice of the America that you want to live in."

Brendan Doherty, the leading Republican challenger to Congressman David Cicilline, says because the Supreme Court upheld the law doesn't mean it's in the best interest of the American people. In a statement he said the individual mandate, "represents a tax on small businesses and middle class families."

Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation
Rhode Island's congressional delegation is praising the Supreme Court's decision on the president's Affordable Care Act. Congressman Jim Langevin was in a democratic caucus meeting when the news broke, he says the mood is buoyant in certain parts of Capitol Hill and calls the ruling an important victory.

Senator Jack Reed calls the ruling a significant advantage for Rhode Islanders, and is please the ruling allows the state to continue with its health insurance exchange. While Senator Sheldon Whitehouse says the Supreme Court sent a clear message that the president's healthcare overhaul will move forward.

"For the average American this is something that they'd like us to move on from and worry about growing the economy rather than fighting old healthcare battles," says Whitehouse.

Congressman David Cicilline urged the nation to work together to ensure the law is implemented.

Insurance Commissioner Koller Witnesses History
State health insurance commissioner Christopher Koller was standing in a crowd of people outside the court when the ruling was issued Thursday morning.

Koller says the details of the decision weren't immediately clear to the crowd outside the Supreme Court. But he had a sense of the ruling when he saw supporters of the healthcare overhaul were happier than opponents. Koller says the court decision will expand the reach of health insurance in Rhode Island.

"We're going to be able to proceed with an insurance system that has everyone participating, sick as well as healthy," says Koller, "and one where, hopefully, there are subsidies for those who need it to purchase it."

Koller traveled to Washington D.C. earlier this week for a national meeting of health insurance commissioners, and decided to stick around for the court's historic decision.

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