Thursday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court may have settled the question of whether the health care overhaul is allowed under the Constitution, but the debate over the reform will continue.
"Ultimately, the American people have the final say, and that's the voice of the American people here in Congress," said Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Ohio. "And we're not going to stop until we repeal this law."
The high court announced its 5-4 decision on Thursday, affirming the constitutionality of the central piece of the law - that all Americans must purchase health insurance or be subject to a fine. Most of the law was upheld, except the provision that would have withheld a state's entire Medicaid allotment if it didn't go along with the law's expansion of that program.
The court rejected the argument that the individual mandate was allowed under the federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce but accepted the penalty against people who don't purchase insurance as, essentially, a tax, something immediately seized on by opponents.
"The president said this wasn't a tax increase," Johnson said in an interview with The Marietta Times Thursday. "The Supreme Court has validated that the American people have been lied to."
Asked about that argument, Charlie Wilson, the St. Clairsville Democrat unseated by Johnson in the 2010 election who is running against him again this year, said he sees the penalty as a means of encouraging people to buy insurance.
What they said
"I know there will be a lot of discussion today about the politics of all this - about who won and who lost. That's how these things tend to be viewed here in Washington. But that discussion completely misses the point. Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it." - President Barack Obama.
"Let's make clear that we understand what the court did and did not do. What the court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or that it's good policy. Obamacare was bad policy yesterday; it's bad policy today. Obamacare was bad law yesterday; it's bad law today." - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
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"The president's health care law is hurting our economy by driving up health costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire. Today's ruling underscores the urgency of repealing this harmful law in its entirety. What Americans want is a common-sense, step-by-step approach to health care reform that will protect Americans' access to the care they need, from the doctor they choose, at a lower cost. Republicans stand ready to work with a president who will listen to the people and will not repeat the mistakes that gave our country ObamaCare." - Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio.
"I knew when (the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.) left us, he would go to heaven and help us pass this bill. ... Now he can rest in peace." - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"It's a great moment to just think about what this will mean for the millions and millions of Americans who have already benefited from the Affordable Care Act and so many more who will continue to do so. There will be a lot of work to do to get it implemented and understand what the opinion says, but obviously, I was quite excited to hear the results." - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"Passing the Affordable Care Act was the greatest single step in generations toward ensuring access to affordable, quality health care for every American, regardless of where they live or how much money they make." - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
"Americans want it repealed, and that's precisely what we intend to do. Americans want us to start over, and today's decision does nothing to change that. The court's ruling doesn't mark the end of the debate. It marks a fresh start on the road to repeal." - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
"What's important to remember is that what the court rules on is whether something is constitutional or not, not whether it's a good idea. And while the court has said that the law is constitutional, it remains a bad idea for our economy, and I hope that in the fall we will have a majority here that will not just repeal this law, but replace it with real solutions that will insure more people and cost a lot less money." - Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.
"Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be 'constitutional' does not make it so. The whole thing remains unconstitutional. While the court may have erroneously come to the conclusion that the law is allowable, it certainly does nothing to make this mandate or government takeover of our health care right," - Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.
Source: The Associated Press.
By the numbers
Here is a look at where Ohio and West Virginia stand on implementing President Barack Obama's federal health care overhaul, which the Supreme Court ruled Thursday can go forward with its aim of covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans:
- NUMBER OF UNINSURED: More than 1.5 million state residents are uninsured, or about 14 percent.
- WHERE THE STATE STANDS: Ohio has not moved to create a health care exchange but is evaluating its options. It received a $1 million federal exchange planning grant in 2010. Republican Gov. John Kasich's administration has taken advantage of some parts of the new law to expand coordinated care and propose changes to Medicaid eligibility. Democrats have unsuccessfully pushed bills in the General Assembly to set up a state-run exchange. But Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, who is also Ohio's insurance director, frequently criticizes the overhaul and says it's premature to plan for an exchange without further clarification from the federal government.
- NUMBER OF UNINSURED: 244,000 West Virginians are uninsured, or about 13.5 percent.
- WHERE THE STATE STANDS: West Virginia has enacted legislation allowing for a state-run health care exchange, but the state has slowed the pace of setting it up to see how the Supreme Court rules.
Source: The Associated Press.
"I look at it as a way of directing people into what would be a good decision for them," he said in an interview with the Times.
Health care is expected to be a significant issue in the upcoming general election. Wilson and Johnson each commented on the decision in terms of the upcoming vote and their opponents.
Wilson said the high court's ruling undermines the position of people like Johnson who have long opposed it.
"I think it's been put down for two years by Bill Johnson," he said. "Let's see what kind of traction it has (in the election), and let's see if people feel they're better off."
Johnson said he will respect the court's decision, but the ruling doesn't address the value of the law itself.
"Remember, the Supreme Court didn't rule whether it was a good law or a good policy," he said. "They ruled on the constitutionality of the actions taken by Barack Obama, (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Wilson."
Johnson and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who is running against incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, both noted their opponents' support of the health care legislation in statements issued in the wake of the decision.
"This law increases the cost of care, puts government bureaucrats between patients and their doctors, and hurts the ability of private sector job creators in Ohio to give their workers the benefits they deserve," Mandel said in his release. "The voters of Ohio overwhelmingly rejected this one-size-fits-all approach last November, and I am confident they will do so again this November."
A state constitutional amendment passed by 66 percent of voters last fall rejected the health care law, but most experts agreed it wouldn't actually stop the law from taking effect in Ohio.
Brown released his own statement, saying he hoped the ruling would "put an end to the partisan bickering so that we can continue our focus on jobs and improving the economy."
"Today's ruling means that more than 1.2 million Ohio seniors will continue to have access to cancer screenings and wellness exams through Medicare," Brown said. "Nearly 97,000 young adults in our state will continue to be able to stay on their parents' health insurance until they're 26. Parents of children with pre-existing conditions - like cancer, asthma or diabetes - will no longer worry that they will be unable to buy health insurance."
Johnson said he isn't opposed to the latter provision and feels the longer coverage for children should be an option, not required. He supports repeal of the entire law, but said those concepts would be worth revisiting.
"I think there are elements of the law that need to be considered (in) a common-sense health care law," he said.
Such a law should include tort reform to eliminate frivolous lawsuits, incentives to invest in health savings accounts and making health insurance portable "from state to state and job to job" to increase competition, Johnson said.
"Make the insurance companies have to earn your business," he said.
Wilson said although he considers Thursday's decision a victory, the law isn't perfect.
"I look forward to getting back to Congress and working across the aisle to get a bipartisan plan that we all agree on," he said.
Reaction was mixed around Washington County.
Glenn Newman, founder of the Marietta OH 9-12 Project, characterized Thursday as a dark day in American history.
"Freedom as we know it has now been removed from us," he said. "We the people have been stomped on, and the federal government now has its black boot on our throat."
Newman called the ruling a "complete misreading of the Constitution" and said the penalty against people who don't buy insurance was never intended to be a tax, even though the court classified it as such.
Wingett Run resident Alaina Clift, 24, said she also thinks requiring people to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.
"That should be everyone's personal decision," she said.
She and her husband, Matthew, have insurance but said that doesn't solve the problem of rising health care costs. Personally, she favors having a government-run system like Canada's.
"Everyone's afraid of that word 'socialization,'" she said. "If they would just come up with another word. ..."
Beverly resident Kim Tornes, a 28-year-old former insurance agent, said she's OK with the law.
"I know that there are a lot of things with the health care industry that need changed," she said. "I think this is a good step to get us where we need to be.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with (the individual mandate) as long as it's based on your income and that there are options," Tornes said.