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Health-care debate will continue after ruling

ST. PAUL -- A U.S. Supreme Court ruling is the law of the land. Until it isn't. That is the message Republicans are spreading and Democrats dreading in light of Thursday's 5-4 decision to uphold a new federal health-care law. Minutes after the ru...

ST. PAUL -- A U.S. Supreme Court ruling is the law of the land. Until it isn't.

That is the message Republicans are spreading and Democrats dreading in light of Thursday's 5-4 decision to uphold a new federal health-care law.

Minutes after the ruling became public, both major parties distributed a frantic message: send money. Beyond that agreement, however, the federal law sharply divides Republicans and Democrats.

Republicans want to capitalize on the decision to get donations for their candidates, pledging to repeal what they call "Obamacare." Democrats said they need funds to keep their own in power and keep the Affordable Care Act in force.

"We will have to wait and see what the public decides," state Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said about the Nov. 6 elections.


The high court's decision that the health-care plan pushed by Democratic President Barack Obama is constitutional kept it intact. Since the ruling, led by GOP-backed Chief Justice John Roberts, did not water down the law, both sides can continue to use arguments they have for three years.

"In my mind, it always has been a political question," Hann said.

Hann said voters are faced with a question: "Do we want this law?"

Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, a Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton appointee, held out hope that Republicans and Democrats can work together as the state implements the federal health law, much of which does not begin until 2014.

"There is common ground to be found here," Jesson said.

Overall, Minnesota reaction mirrored that from elsewhere in breaking along predictable party lines.

"Victory" is how DFL Chairman Ken Martin headlined his email to party members seeking contributions to protect the law.

Minutes later, Minnesota Republican leaders sent their own email for donations, with the simple message: "The Supreme Court has upheld Obamacare, and there's a lot of work for us to do in order to ensure that Obamacare is repealed."


Representatives of the organization that brought the lawsuit against the health law were disappointed.

"Based on the decision, the federal government can now regulate individuals simply for existing," said Mike Hickey, Minnesota National Federation of Independent Business director.

Key to the federal law, enacted two years ago, is a provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance. But Hickey said many provisions will affect businesses, especially small firms.

The federal act, for instance, requires employers with more than the equivalent of 50 full-time workers to provide insurance or pay a $2,000 penalty per employee.

"It could be a disincentive to grow," Hickey said about businesses approaching 50 employees.

Calling the law "pretty sweeping," Hickey said most businesses have not seen much impact so far.

"There are all kinds of restrictions on health insurance," he said, and his organization thinks several provisions will add to business costs.

Jesson, however, said her figures show businesses will save money.


State Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said the federal law has many benefits, "most notably for adults and children who currently cannot purchase insurance because they have a pre-existing condition. The Affordable Care Act fixes this policy, making it possible for all to purchase insurance to keep them and their families healthy."

Huntley, the state House's leading health care finance Democrat, said one of the impacts already has been allowing 32,000 young Minnesotans to remain on their parents' health insurance until they are 26 years old.

"For consumers purchasing insurance, they'll no longer have to worry about lifetime caps on coverage," Huntley said.

Democrats like Huntley trumpet health-care exchanges the federal law requires. Exchanges, mostly on line marketplaces, would allow Americans to save money by buying insurance in a competitive atmosphere.

Former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, a conservative Republican Minnesota congresswoman, said the ruling "raises the stakes for the coming months."

"Now, the only way to save the country from Obamacare's budget-busting government takeover of health care is to completely repeal it," she said.

On CNN, Bachmann called the decision "a turning point in American history. We will never be the same again."

Bachmann, chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus, was in the courtroom as the opinion was read.


U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said the law will help for years: "Countless Minnesotans for generations to come will no longer have to suffer the burden of worrying about getting health insurance."


U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said she was proud to vote for the law.

"It is now time for Republicans in Congress to end their vitriolic repeal campaign and work on effectively implementing this law to the benefit of the American people," McCollum said.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., was typical of Republicans, calling the ruling "a devastating blow."

He said the action means "there is no reasonable limit on federal power."

Republican challengers to Democratic congressmen pounced on the opportunity to blast "Obamacare."

"Complete repeal is the only option the Supreme Court has left us," said Lee Byberg, challenging long-time U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson.


"My opponent, Collin Peterson, has taken to defending Obamacare of late, saying that calls for repeal are 'political,'" Byberg said. "I think listening to the people isn't just politics, it's what representatives are supposed to do."

Byberg simplified his message: "If you like Obamacare, vote for Peterson. If you want it repealed, vote for Byberg."

Peterson spokeswomen said he wanted to read the court ruling before responding.

The issue was hot in southern Minnesota's congressional district.

"Southern Minnesota small business owners, seniors and families continue to speak out against Obamacare, which Congressman Tim Walz has championed," said Republican state Rep. Mike Parry, running in a primary election to face Democratic congressman Walz in southern Minnesota. "This legislation will drive up costs for hard-working Minnesotans."

Walz stopped short of a strong endorsement of the federal law in his own statement, and indicated it could change.

"Health care reform is a journey, not a destination," Walz said. "And as we move forward, I will continue to work closely with health care experts, small businesses and southern Minnesotans to ensure all Americans have access to the high-quality, low-cost care they deserve."

Freshman U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., used the Republican line that the federal health law amounts to a tax increase.


"Make no mistake, President Obama's health care bill is one of the largest tax increases in U.S. history," Cravaack said. "Importantly, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has confirmed the widespread consensus that the law is far too flawed and must be repealed."

He added: "Moving forward, Obamacare must be repealed in full, while being replaced with common-sense, step-by-step reforms that protect Americans' access to the care they need, from the doctor they choose, at a lower cost."

One of three Democrats hoping to challenge Cravaack in November, Tarryl Clark, said that she likes the federal law's expansion of Medicare so it is available to all Americans.

"Congressman Cravaack has already announced his commitment to putting big, for-profit health insurance companies back in charge of our health care, letting them return to denying coverage to people with asthma or cancer, and blocking women's access to cancer screenings," Clark said. "Now that we are sure the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, it's time to move on and get to work containing health care costs."

Davis is the Minnesota State Capitol Bureau correspondent for Forum Communications, which owns the Herald.

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