Mich. health industry officials applaud ACA ruling

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold a key portion of the Affordable Care Act Thursday was welcomed by health industry officials in Michigan.

Via a 6-3 decision, the court left in place health subsidies paid to citizens through federal exchanges that have been set up in more than 30 states. Michigan is one of those states and more than 228,000 residents here have received federal tax credits to lighten their health care costs for plans through the federal programs.

"The Michigan Health & Hospital Association applauds today's Supreme Court decision upholding the subsidies available to individuals purchasing health insurance on Michigan's federally-facilitated exchange," the organization stated in a news release. "Michigan hospitals are focused on keeping those they serve healthy and productive, and access to affordable health insurance is essential to improving the health of any community.

"The loss of these subsidies would have been a major setback to achieving those goals."

At the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Dearborn, staff members have worked for two years to gain the trust of clients and get them set up in the new health care system. For them, Thursday's ruling came as a relief since it would likely have forced clients to return to square one.

"The impact would have been very negative," said Madiha Tariq, ACCESS' public health manager. "We're working with an immigrant community that has linguistic and cultural barriers. That increases the effort needed to build trust. It would have been like starting over for them."

Not everyone was as pleased with the ruling. Officials with the National Federation of Independent Business said Thursday they had not taken a stand on the Supreme Court cases, but a post on the group's web site made it clear they wanted some kind of change from Obamacare's status quo.

"We remain ... deeply disappointed in the Affordable Care Act," wrote Karen Harned, the group's executive director. "The central defect in the law is that it was never designed to make health insurance more affordable for everyone, as its supporters, including the President, promised. It was designed to subsidize health insurance for some Americans at the expense of others. Local business owners remain among many groups of Americans for whom the law is a failure."

An Urban Institute study estimated the loss of federal health subsidies would have resulted in a 35 percent increase in premiums for individuals. Following release of the ruling, the Michigan Association of Health Plans weighed in, calling it a "positive development" for the state's current setup.

"We believe that the state partnership health marketplace, accessible at www.healthcare.gov, is a valuable tool that is helping facilitate competition among health insurers and access to insurance to individuals who would otherwise go without health insurance," said Rick Murdock, MAHP's executive director, in a statement released Thursday morning. "We are pleased to see the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed subsidies to continue to flow through the state partnership marketplaces, including those serving Michigan families."

Insurers lauded the court for not throwing the current system into chaos or putting state residents at risk of losing their coverage.

"This decision allows thousands of Michigan consumers to stay covered, and gives those who remain uninsured the opportunity to explore their options knowing financial assistance will be available now and into the future, giving those who need help a sense of security when buying health insurance," said Terry Burke, vice president for individual business at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, in a statement Thursday afternoon. "People deserve stable and affordable health coverage. Affordable coverage gives more people the opportunity to get and stay covered. This has always been Blue Cross' goal."

Industry officials weren't the only ones backing the court's ruling Thursday. U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, issued a statement reading: "The (decision) sends a loud, strong message across this nation. Health care is a right, not a privilege. Bottom line: today's decision is a victory for working families across this country."


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