AUGUSTA — Maine Democrats and consumers praised the Supreme Court decision upholding President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, while conservatives called it "an assault on personal liberty." Hospitals were torn, saying it presents opportunities and challenges.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage had no immediate response and Attorney General William Schneider, who joined 25 other states in challenging the law, said he was pleased the ruling will not force states to expand Medicaid coverage for the poor and disabled.
Democratic state Rep. Sharon Treat of Hallowell, who worked with a network of lawmakers from other states to fine-tune the national law, called the decision "an incredible victory for the millions of Americans and tens of thousands of families across Maine, who will soon be able to afford to get the care and medication they need."
Treat, of Hallowell, called on state officials to put aside politics and implement the law. She said it will give a family of four in Maine earning the median income of $46,000 a year a tax credit that would cover nearly 80 percent of the family's total cost of health care for the year.
More than 121,000 Mainers, or about 9.4 percent of the population, lack health care coverage. Numbers may rise due to Medicaid cutbacks authorized by latest state budget.
A conservative group with close ties to LePage, the Maine Heritage Police Center, said the decision will drive insurance rates up, tax Maine employers and threaten the viability of the private insurance market.
"This is a sad day for Mainers," said Joel Allumbaugh, director of Health Reform Initiatives at MHPC. He said the Supreme Court "has approved federal legislation that assaults personal liberty, costs $2 trillion and creates a massive expansion in entitlements."
Schneider noted that the court sided with the states by not forcing them to expand Medicaid programs beyond their own policy choices. States will not lose current levels of funding if they choose not expand Medicaid.
"In doing so, the court protected the states' rights and prerogatives," said Schneider. He also said that the individual mandate to buy insurance "could not have politically withstood the opinion of the American people if it had been branded a tax when the law was being devised."
Maine has already implemented some changes included in the national law, such as allowing parents to add coverage of children up to age 25 and outlawing denial of insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Maine has also passed a law that will allow consumers to shop out-of-state for coverage.
Legislation to create a statewide health care exchange, or insurance marketplace, was put on hold was set aside so lawmakers could await the Supreme Court's decision.
The Maine Hospital Association issued a statement saying the health care law presents challenges due to significant reductions in Medicaid reimbursements. But uninsured individuals will have a greater opportunity to be covered through either Medicaid or the private commercial market with the assistance of government subsidies, the MHA said.