WUIS Health Desk: Illinois Reaction to ‘ObamaCare’ Ruling

Thursday’s health-care ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court prompted predictable reactions among Illinois politicians and interest groups. But there were a few surprises. And most people seem to have one thing in common: after months of keeping health care policy-making on hold while waiting for the court’s ruling, they’re still trying to figure out what that decision means. From the WUIS Health Desk, Brian Mackey has our story:

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Illinois Democrats and Republicans mostly fell into two camps when reacting to the Supreme Court ruling on the federal health care law.

DURBIN: “The Republicans said that (the) Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional and unnecessary.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

DURBIN: “Today, in this 193-page opinion, the Supreme Court made it clear that the Affordable Care Act — signed by President Obama, passed by Congress — is constitutional. Period.”

Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, from the Chicago suburbs, has a different view:

WALSH: “I want to start over. I want to get rid of the whole thing. And then I want Republicans and Democrats to sit down and work on the things we all agree on, which are ‘tort reform,’ expanding health savings accounts, letting Americans cross state lines to buy insurance. Look: ObamaCare goes in the exact opposite direction.”

Illinois Republican Party chairman Pat Brady was less diplomatic. In a statement, he says the law will cause America’s health care system to “implode” and the national debt to “explode.”

Moving beyond partisan talking points, a lot of interest groups spent the day trying to figure out what the revived law means for them. Medical providers say getting more people health coverage is a good thing.

WURTH: “That was the right decision for those that are uninsured and need access to quality care going forward.”

Maryjane Wurth is the CEO of the Illinois Hospital Association. She says there’s a lot to like in the Affordable Care Act: the expansion of coverage, long-sought changes to insurance laws, and the government’s willingness to experiment with new payment models.

WURTH: “But there are also some negatives in the bill as well, such as payment reductions to hospitals and other providers.”

And for doctors and hospitals, that’s a significant “but.” A lot of the people who’ll get coverage through the new law will be added to the Medicaid rolls — the government program of health care for the poor. That’s a source of concern for doctors like William Werner, head of the Illinois State Medical Society.

WERNER: “Reimbursement for physicians really does not cover the cost. So even though Medicaid may expand and somebody will have a card that says they have insurance, they still may have difficulty finding access to care.”

And even if people gain coverage through Medicaid and can find a doctor — it’s not clear who’ll pay for it. The Illinois General Assembly just spent months cutting benefits and increasing taxes to a plug a $2.7-billion hole in Medicaid.

But Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka says there are hundreds of thousands of people who’ve been eligible for Medicaid who, for whatever reason, never bothered to enroll.

TOPINKA: “They will now sign up for Medicaid, because it’s either you sign up or you’re going to be taxed.”

Which means Illinois can kiss those savings goodbye.

TOPINKA: “It will probably run us about $2.4 billion — which pretty well kills off and neutralizes any cuts that were made in the last round of the legislature.”

As people have waited months for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the case, implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Illinois rusted to a stop. Gov. Pat Quinn says he’s eager to get things moving again.

QUINN: “The state of Illinois is going forward with the president of our country — President Barack Obama — to expand using Medicaid, those who would be covered under the Affordable Care Act.”

One of the big outstanding questions for 2012 is how — or whether — Illinois will create a health insurance exchange. That’s a critical component of the law; it’ll be the marketplace where uninsured people can find coverage at a reasonable cost.

In the days before the Supreme Court’s decision, a key lawmaker said he didn’t think the legislature would be able to get the job done before the federal government’s deadline. Quinn has considered creating an exchange by executive order. But when asked about it, he seemed to dismiss the idea.

QUINN: “We do want our legislature to pass a law with respect to health insurance exchanges. And I want to work with legislators in a good way on making that possible.”

Regardless of what happens, it appears the long freeze on implementation of the Affordable Care Act will soon thaw. Once again, Maryjane Wurth of the Hospital Association:

WURTH: “People have fatigue in dealing with some of these reform initiatives, and really want to get to action, to execution, to see the results, to make sure that we are making progress, and to move from the rhetoric.”

People have been waiting months for the Supreme Court to inject a measure of certainty into the future of the Affordable Care Act, or “ObamaCare” as the president’s opponents like to call it. Instead, the reaction to the court’s narrow ruling suggests the fight over the law is far from over.

— Brian Mackey

— Support for WUIS’ Health Desk comes from Springfield Clinic.


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