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Health care law debate lingers despite 5-4 ruling

July 11, 2012
With the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month ruling the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act constitutional, there has been nonstop talk, including from several locals, about the pros and cons of the law and how it will play out.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who was appointed by then-President George W. Bush, a Republican, in 2005, offered a dramatic victory for President Barack Obama and Democrats by joining the four liberal members of the court in the 5-4 decision.

The president called the ruling a "victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure," but what does "Obamacare," as it's come to be known, do for the average Joe? How does it affect normal people?

Talk radio, television, the Internet and newspapers have all covered the new law extensively but often not with any regard to the people the law will affect and with little attempt to explain it in a way that most people not well versed in politicking can understand.

When the PPACA was signed in 2010, it put into place a comprehensive health insurance reform that was expected to expand coverage for young adults, give small businesses tax credits, curb the denial of benefits for pre-existing conditions and close the so-called "doughnut hole."

The PPACA requires most adults who are not covered by an employer or government-sponsored insurance plan to obtain and maintain coverage or face a penalty. The Supreme Court upheld the penalty because, according to the majority, it falls under Congress' power to levy taxes.

Roberts underlined this power in the majority opinion, which he authored.

"The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax," Roberts wrote. "Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness."

The ruling did limit an important portion of the law in response to reports of coercion in the ranks.

Under the law as it was written, Medicaid would have expanded to cover several million more disabled and poverty-ridden people. However, Medicaid is a joint effort between federal and state funding. The new law will not allow the federal government to pull funding from states that do not expand Medicaid.

Many local people are not happy with how the scenario may play out. One is English Mini Mart owner Beverly King, who said she agrees with little Obama has done.

"He has hurt this country more than he has helped it since he has been in office," she said. "We are not a free country anymore; we are under a dictatorship. We are being told what to do, what we can and cannot do."

King said there are too many interferences by the government on small businesses already, though the health care act will affect her less as a business owner and more as an individual since she and her husband are the only employees.

"I don't have insurance," King said. "I'm going to have to wait until I'm 65 to be on Medicare because I cannot afford it."

King said she is eight years away from 65 and doesn't know what will happen when 2014 rolls around and the government penalizes her for not having insurance.

Small businesses that provide health insurance coverage for their employees are eligible for tax credits to help defer the cost. It is a decision that is expected to bring almost 30 million Americans under the umbrella of insurance coverage.

Rose Toney, owner of Van's Restaurant in Marengo, said that while she doesn't know a lot about the law yet, she's worried that she won't be able to afford it without some sort of subsidy or waiver.

"I don't have an extra thousand dollars a month or more," she said. "I wish I could. I really don't know how it will all play out."

She said that she doesn't want to raise prices at her restaurant, but, if it comes down to it, that's what may have to be done. Doing so, however, likely would have a long-term effect on her business, she said.

"I don't see how it wouldn't if it's something that I have to come up with to stay in business. The prices will have to go up," Toney said. "It's kind of scary because it's my livelihood. We've been here 19 years this year and we have no idea how it's going to affect us all."

Alan Bitzer, a patron at Van's, pointed out that in rural communities, when businesses and individuals are forced to conform on a national scale, it's often the little guys who end up with the short end of the stick.

"This is a small place," Bitzer said. "It's not a Texas Roadhouse. This is a community, and that's where business comes from."

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