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Massachusetts officials hail Supreme Court health care call

June 25, 2015

BOSTON (AP) — Both lawmakers and state health care officials in Massachusetts are hailing Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding a key element of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey called the ruling a victory for all Americans and said it will ensure that everyone will have access to high-quality, affordable health care.

“After withstanding two Supreme Court rulings, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. It is an integral part of our nation’s fabric of laws, providing health care to millions of Americans, many for the first time,” Markey said in statement.

Lynn Nicholas, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association, said the group “joins patients and health care providers across the country in breathing a collective and welcome sigh of relief.”

Thursday’s decision upholds the nationwide tax subsidies underpinning the federal health care overhaul, rejecting a major challenge to the landmark law in a ruling that preserves health insurance for millions of Americans.

The justices said in a 6-3 ruling that the subsidies that 8.7 million people currently receive to make insurance affordable do not depend on where they live, as opponents contended. It was the second major victory for Obama before the high court.

But not everyone in Massachusetts welcomed the decision.

Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said the ruling makes it even more critical for Congress to ensure that no taxpayer dollars are going to health plans that cover abortion services.

Lora Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said insurers are pleased with the ruling, but said the state needs a permanent waiver from a provision of the federal law to help protect small businesses from insurance rate hikes.

Gov. Charlie Baker recently won a one-year waiver to allow Massachusetts to continue using existing rating factors for small businesses.

The ruling doesn’t directly affect Massachusetts, since it was aimed at the 34 states that relied on the federal health insurance exchange. Massachusetts relies on a state-run exchange.

Massachusetts’ 2006 health care law became the blueprint for the federal law signed by Obama in 2010. Massachusetts has the highest percentage of insured residents of any state.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court majority, cited the experience in Massachusetts several times in the ruling.

Roberts credited the state with avoiding what he called the economic “death spiral” sparked by earlier attempts by states to expand access by banning insurers from denying coverage to any person because of their health while also barring insurers from charging a person higher premiums for the same reason.

Roberts said those changes expanded access but encouraged people to wait until they were sick to enroll, giving rise to higher premiums, fewer people buying insurance and insurers leaving the market.

“Massachusetts discovered a way to make the guaranteed issue and community rating requirements work — by requiring individuals to buy insurance and by providing tax credits to certain individuals to make insurance more affordable,” he wrote.

“The combination of these three reforms — insurance market regulations, a coverage mandate, and tax credits — reduced the uninsured rate in Massachusetts to 2.6 percent, by far the lowest in the Nation,” he added.

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