Ohio Joins Health Care Fight In Washington

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Ohio protesters like these outside a downtown Columbus federal building last week have said the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.(Photo: Sam Hendren, WOSU News)
Ohio protesters like these outside a downtown Columbus federal building last week have said the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.(Photo: Sam Hendren, WOSU News)

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments starting today on the Affordable Care Act, the federal law that sought to reform the health care and health insurance system across the country.

Ohio is one of the key players.

For Mike DeWine, this trip to Washington has taken 14 months.

“When I ran for Attorney General, I made a commitment to take Ohio into the lawsuit against Obamacare,” DeWine says.

DeWine is in Washington for the three days of arguments before the high court, which will then decide the case that Ohio and 25 other states have filed against the federal government over the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, on the first day of arguments, advocates for the law will be demonstrating in favor of it. Col Owens is the co-chair of Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage.

“Almost all people insured in Ohio have received benefits from the elimination of the lifetime limit on their coverage under insurance, and under protections that do not allow insurance to be stopped when they become ill,” Owens says.

Owens ticks off a list of what he says the federal law has done in Ohio – it’s allowed 2,600 Ohioans who are uninsurable because of serious health conditions to join a high risk pool till the federal law is fully in effect in 2014; he says 83,000 Ohioans under 26 are now allowed to stay on their parents’ policies; and he says the way the law deals with the “donut hole” in the Medicare prescription drug program has saved 185,000 Ohio senior citizens $95 million.

“And when the health care exchange is put into place, and something like almost a million and a half uninsured people in Ohio will begin to receive coverage through the exchange,” Owens says.

But while DeWine admits some parts of the plan have been received well, that’s not enough to save what he feels is unconstitutional public policy.

“The people of Ohio understand it. When they think about Obamacare, I think there are some things about the bill that they like, but by a 2-1 vote, Ohioans have said no to this individual mandate,” DeWine says.

DeWine refers to last fall’s Issue 3, the amendment to the Ohio Constitution that states that no federal or state law will require any person, company or health care provider to participate in a health care system.

Critics have said there’s no way a state constitutional amendment can trump the federal law if it’s upheld, but its supporters say they may take legal action if the state sets up exchanges, the marketplaces dictated in the law where uninsured people would buy health insurance.

State officials have said some of the intricacies of the Affordable Care Act that have them resisting the requirement on setting up exchanges for now.

Greg Moody is the head of Gov. John Kasich’s Office of Health Transformation – and he was asked in testimony about the governor’s budget update bill what was happening with the state-run exchange.

“We’re in a situation where that is one part of the Affordable Care Act that guidance from the federal government came later. Where we had guidance earlier, there are things related to federal reform that have already been acted on. Health insurance exchanges are different because the federal guidance has been slow in coming,” Moody says.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision may settle the question – or not, if the justices uphold or toss out parts of the law. Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is a strong supporter of the law, but he isn’t especially confident.

“This is a very activist court that writes new laws. And the new laws they’ve written have clearly biased government towards Wall Street, towards the insurance companies, towards the oil industry, and I have no idea what they’re going to do,” Brown says.

A decision from the court isn’t likely until the end of June.

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