Hospital leaders see little impact in Mass. from high-court ruling

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While much of the country held its breath as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Barack Obama’s health-care law was handed down Thursday, hospital leaders in Massachusetts said the ruling would have little impact here.

Massachusetts Democrats praised the decision, while Republicans criticized it.

The heart of the law — an individual insurance mandate requiring nearly all residents to have insurance or face tax penalties — already exists in Massachusetts due to the state’s 2006 health care initiative.

Massachusetts is currently the only state with an individual mandate.

HealthAlliance Hospital President and CEO Patrick Muldoon said he was not surprised the law was upheld, although he thought the ruling on the individual mandate could have gone either way.

“From a policy standpoint, I think it’s terrific for the country,” he said. “They will get to experience what’s been going on here in Massachusetts since 2006, when Gov. (Mitt) Romney signed health-care reform legislation.”

Muldoon said Massachusetts was already in compliance with many components of the federal law, including extending the eligibility qualifications for Medicaid, which the Supreme Court ruled should be optional for states to sign onto under the federal law.

Heywood Hospital President and CEO Winfield Brown released a statement saying the Gardner facility would continue focusing on providing access to quality care to its patients.

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is an affirmation that our state and our country remain on the path to reforming our nation’s health-care system, ultimately providing accessible and affordable health care for all,” he said.

Rick Swanson, director of Special Projects for Education & Community Development for Fitchburg-based Community Health Connections, learned of the ruling on Twitter. He followed the case closely and was happy with the results.

“I noticed that (Chief Justice John) Roberts was asking more open-minded questions, even though people thought (Justice Anthony) Kennedy was going to be the swing vote,” said Swanson.

Swanson added that the ruling should diminish criticisms that the Supreme Court votes entirely along party lines. He also said officials at the 8,000 community health-care clinics across the state will be pleased with the ruling because it will increase demand for their services.

“I like that there’s an emphasis on prevention,” said Swanson. “The thinking there is if you can do a good job on prevention you can avoid emergency-room visits and decrease follow-up visits.”

Democratic politicians throughout the state hailed the decision as a vindication for Massachusetts.

Gov. Deval Patrick said the law gives families more security while holding insurers accountable. He also praised Romney for signing the state law while at the same time faulting him for his opposition to the federal law.

“Each and every one of the list of horrors Gov. Romney now says will happen in America because of Obamacare did not happen in Massachusetts because of Romneycare,” said Patrick, who serves as a co-chairman of Obama’s re-election committee. Romney is Obama’s Republican challenger.

U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, a Lowell Democrat, said families can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing seniors will continue to get help paying for prescription drugs, young adults will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance plans and insurance companies will be prevented from charging women more than men.

“Up until this moment, I was still hearing from families who were caring for a loved one and were concerned about what today’s outcome would mean for them,” she said.

The two Republicans challenging Tsongas in the 3rd Congressional District — Jon Golnik and Tom Weaver — criticized the decision.

“I think it’s going to be a tax on the middle class and small business,” said Golnik, of Carlisle. “I don’t know how much more we can afford.”

“With the Supreme Court upholding the health-care law, the court has said that the government can destroy our freedom through unlimited taxation,” said Weaver, of Westford.

Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a conservative-leaning Boston-based think tank, called the ruling a “lose-lose for everyone.”

“The court’s decision today will set off further state and federal conflicts that will likely end up in the courts once again,” he said.

Sentinel & Enterprise staff writer Michael Hartwell contributed to this report.

Also seen in Sentinel & Enterprise and Lowell Sun Online