The North Country's two congressmen have mixed feelings about Thursday's Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, but both say the decision should signal a more meaningful discussion about health care reform.
Meanwhile, a leading health care official in the North Country says the court's 5-4 decision to uphold the health care law, dubbed "Obamacare" by its detractors, affirms the extension of health insurance coverage to some 32 million Americans.
Adirondack Health President and CEO Chandler Ralph said her organization has long advocated for expanded access to health care coverage. She said the court's decision means lawmakers and health care officials need to continue finding ways to reduce costs and improve patient care "through innovation and greater use of technology.
"Reform does come with a cost, but cuts to Medicaid and Medicare cannot be so deep that they undo the progress we have made to become a more efficient, higher quality health care system," Ralph said in a prepared statement. "We must continue our work of strengthening the network of physicians and providers in the region, which remains a critical component of the health care delivery system."
Ralph said the challenge now is to achieve universal coverage "so that no American is denied affordable, quality health care."
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, lauded the ruling. He voted for the Affordable Care Act immediately after he took office in 2009.
"Now that the court has ruled, Democrats and Republicans must come together to implement the law, which includes making changes where appropriate to improve provisions that still need work," Owens said in a prepared statement.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, said his constituents have told him repeatedly that Obamacare is not the answer to the nation's health care problems. He said he respects that the Supreme Court has made its decision on the law's constitutionality but that now it's time to take legislative action to repeal and replace it.
"In addition to multiple tax increases, failing to address rising costs, harming small businesses, and significantly increasing government involvement in health care, this bill stepped on our freedoms," Gibson said in a press release.
"We should begin substantive, bipartisan discussion on commonsense reforms - a number of which I have cosponsored or voted on already," Gibson added. "I'm confident our replacement solutions can include insurance reform for wider access to options and choices, including coverage until (age) 26 and beyond, medical liability reform, coverage for preexisting conditions and an assurance that coverage can't be dropped when you get sick."
Owens said his goal has always been to expand coverage and improve health care outcomes for patients and providers.
"Now the debate is over and it's time to move forward with those goals in mind," he said.
Matt Doheny, the Republican challenger to Owens in the Nov. 6 election, said the ruling means Obamacare will continue to be "a nightmare for the average upstate New Yorker.
"My opponent has left behind a string of broken promises," Doheny said in a press release. "He said Obamacare would pay for itself. It doesn't. He said it would protect Medicare for seniors. It doesn't. He said it would allow ordinary Americans to keep the health care plan they like. It doesn't."
Doheny said that if he's elected, he'd work to repeal and replace the law. In a recent interview with the Enterprise, he said he would favor an incremental approach to replacing it.
"We have to look at the data, specific targets in terms of what specific areas need to be dealt with from a federal legislation perspective, but do it in a way that still has to be incremental so that the American people can buy into it," Doheny said.
Donald Hassig, a Green Party challenger to Owens, said he's pleased with the high court's ruling. The Colton resident runs Cancer Action NY, a group dedicated to stopping the spread of chemical carcinogens.
"The U.S. economy created a tremendous amount of wealth largely as a result of chemical production and use," he said. "It is only fair that the federal government would make affordable health care available to every American.
"By doing so, the federal government is sharing some of the nation's wealth with low income people who do not have sufficient financial resources to obtain the health care that they need," Hassig added.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.