Utah governor calls for repeal of health care law

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Republican Gov. Gary Herbert slammed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Health Care Act on Thursday, saying while it “may be constitutional” it’s still bad policy.

It’s unclear how Utah will proceed under the guidelines established by the ruling. Herbert said his staff is conducting a thorough legal and policy review, but he would not comment on whether the state would expand its Medicaid coverage under the law.

“The Affordable Care Act imposes a one-size-fits-all plan on all states, effectively driving us to the lowest common denominator,” Herbert said in a statement. “It results in burdensome regulation, higher costs, and a massive, budget-busting Medicaid expansion.”

The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision Thursday that the health care law’s individual mandate requiring people to purchase health insurance or pay a tax is constitutional. The high court also determined that the federal government cannot withhold states’ Medicaid allotment if they don’t increase their coverage levels for adults to 133 percent of the federal poverty threshold beginning in 2014. This was a key way the law sought to expand the number of people covered by insurance.

Herbert has criticized the individual mandate and the expansion of Medicaid that administration officials say would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. Utah implemented a health insurance exchange before the federal health care law was passed to help small businesses obtain insurance coverage for their employees. Herbert administration officials previously said Utah’s exchange program would continue regardless of the ruling.

Elected officials across this largely Republican state said they were disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch said the law was an unprecedented power grab. Sen. Mike Lee called the ruling a “temporary and hollow victory.” Rep. Rob Bishop said the law was a massive tax that is wrong for the nation. All three Republican lawmakers want the law repealed. Herbert also called on Congress to repeal the law and urged voters to deny President Barack Obama a second term in November.

“The American people know that this law violates our deepest constitutional principles of limited government, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling today,” Hatch said.

Utah was one of 26 states that sued the federal government over the law. Census data shows nearly 14 percent of Utahns, or 386,000 residents, don’t have insurance.

Under the national health care law, the federal government seeks to expand Medicaid by raising the eligibility income levels. The federal government will cover those additional costs for the first few years. But states will have to pay 5 percent of the increased costs starting in 2017, increasing a percentage point each year until it reaches 10 percent. Critics argue states cannot afford those additional costs at a time when property taxes and other revenue sources are down.

Under the Supreme Court ruling, states no longer face the threat of losing their entire Medicaid funding if they don’t expand coverage.

“The federal government may not bully the states into expanding Medicaid by threatening to take away all federal Medicaid funding,” Lee said of the ruling.

The Utah Hospital Association applauded the ruling, saying it allowed hospitals to move forward with clarity and provide care.

“Now, with more people having access to health insurance under the law, Utah hospitals will have the opportunity to focus on patients with the greatest need as others pursue primary care instead of waiting until they are in an emergency situation,” said Rod Betit, president of the Utah Hospital Association, which represents more than 50 community hospitals.

Utah Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis praised the ruling, while having some fun at Hatch’s expense.

“The Utah Democratic Party would like to thank Senator Orrin Hatch for championing of the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts to the court,” Dabakis said. “It was, after all, Justice Roberts who wrote the opinion.”

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