East Enders react to Supreme Court health care decision

06/28/2012 1:30 PM |

AP/DAVID GOLDMAN PHOTO | The Supreme Court is reflected in the sunglasses of Susan Clark, of Washington, as she demonstrates against President Barack Obama's health care law while awaiting the court's ruling, Thursday, June 28, 2012, in Washington.

Health care officials and insurance providers from across the region and the state offered mixed views on Thursday’s historic Supreme Court decision that largely upholds President Obama’s health care legislation, including a controversial “individual mandate” that requires most Americans to own health insurance or pay a penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the individual mandate was constitutional under Congress’ ability to collect taxes, according to a majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

The penalty, Justice Roberts wrote, should be considered a tax levied by Congress and thus, constitutional.

Peconic Bay Medical Center president and CEO Andrew Mitchell said that decreasing the number of uninsured people would help to solve many health issues facing the country, though he noted he hadn’t yet read the full 93-page decision.

The U.S. lags behind other developed nations in heath indicators like infant mortality rate and chronic illness rates, he said.

“People who do not have health care insurance or do not have access to health care insurance do not get access to preventative care,” he said. “One would think that if we can expand access to insurance to the population, we should be able to improve our country’s health status.”

Peconic Bay currently spends between $8 million to $10 million on care for people without health insurance, he said. If less people need to take advantage of those services, Mr. Mitchell added, the hospital will invest those funds into more preventative care and better technology.

He also said that the people most affected by this legislation are not just the poor, but also middle class citizens.

“It’s not soley the poor person [who will be affected],” Mr. Mitchell said. “More and more of middle income America has lost health care insurance because either companies have cut back on it or they’ve increased the required co-pays. The divorced woman with two kids whose employer now doesn’t provide health care insurance now doesn’t have access to health care insurance.”

The Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State, an advocacy group representing 51 hospitals across Long Island and the Hudson Valley, also praised the decision in a statement issued Thursday.

“The Supreme Court’s reported decision to uphold the mandate on individuals to purchase health insurance is a victory for the millions of Americans who currently do not have access to health insurance or cannot afford it,” said the group’s president and CEO, Kevin Dahill. “The ruling preserves the legislation’s delicate balance between the needs for a robust and competitive insurance market, financial stability for health care providers, and affordable coverage for consumers.”

On the flip side, one local agent interviewed said a completely different approach on health care is what’s needed to make it affordable to all Americans.

“I do not see how forcing people to buy insurance will bring the costs down,” said Karl Washwick of the Riverhead-based Washwick Agency. “Health insurance rates are purely going to follow health insurance costs.”

Mr. Washwick said he agreed with the court’s decision, but added that he took issue with the legislation itself.

Primary-care doctors, hospitals, and insurance agencies don’t make much of a profit after factoring in health care costs, he said, adding that he is unclear how the current health care reform will be paid.

“It’s an admirable to give us ‘your poor and your sick,’ but who pays for it?” Mr. Washwick asked.

“It’s a horror,” Robert Brady of the Shelter Island Brady Agency said about this morning’s decision.

Mr. Brady sells health insurance and isn’t certain whether the decision will have any immediate impact on his business. But he worries that it could open the door for the government to dictate all kinds of actions that would affect insurance agencies.

“It might be good for poor people,” he said about the decision. “But I don’t want to have pay their premiums.”

Barbara Clark, who represents Amaden Gay Agencies on Shelter Island, is thrilled by the Supreme Court decision, but not because it will have any impact on her business. She only handles property and casualty insurance, she said.

But on a personal level, it means that her grandson will continue to be able to be covered by his parents’ policy for a couple more years, she said. A provision of the legislation provides that parents can continue to cover their children up to age 26.

“I didn’t want to see anyone messing around with anything,” Ms. Clark said.

Two local health care employees at a Mattituck family practitioner, who both wished to remain anonymous, were also divided on the decision.

One employee said she was excited by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the law, but the other said she thinks those who are forced to choose between expensive health care and the fine, will opt for the fine.

“If you are not income eligible for government health insurance, what happens [to you]?” she asked. “I have nothing against Obamacare but they just haven’t given the answer.”

psquire@timesreview.com