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I'm hoping more people will seek care sooner in the course of their illness, and come to us not quite as ill.

Health care law has supporters, detractors in North Country

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The U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold the national health insurance law is drawing mixed opinions in the North Country. Julie Grant spoke with health care providers, politicians and others in the region.

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Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

Julie Grant caught up with Gary Coffey in the hallway of the EJ Noble Medical Building in Canton. He worked in the health care industry for more than 30 years. In the past few years, he’s needed bypass surgery and other medical care. Coffey said he’s glad the Supreme Court has ruled the health insurance law constitutional.

“I think it’s absolutely wonderful. For people like myself, who has been a diabetic since I was 11, I couldn’t afford to buy insurance. I tried getting it after my transplant. I had to go the local chamber of commerce to get a supplemental policy, which was outrageous, even through a group plan like that,” said Coffey. According to Coffey, once New Yorkers are eligible for Medicare, they don’t have much choice for health insurance. He thinks the new law will help provide more options.

Dick Peck of Alexandria Bay was waiting for a doctor’s appointment at EJ Noble.  He’s also retired.  But Peck doesn’t trust that Obamacare will help anything. He says he’s heard President Obama talk out of both sides of his mouth on the individual mandate and said, “You have to play back his soundbites…it’s not a tax, it’s not a tax.  And then they argued to Supreme Court that it was a tax…that’s the only way they got it through. I don’t know if they lied. But it was dishonest.” In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the federal government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance, but it does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance.

Loretta Harris hadn’t heard anything about it when she walked into the medical building holding her two-week-old little girl and her two other children. Harris said they depend on Medicaid for health coverage; her husband is an unemployed construction worker. “Right now it’s hard, we want to get a job, but we’re afraid of losing insurance,” said Harris. Under the new law, Medicaid would be expanded, so a family like Harris’ might still be eligible, even if her husband finds a job.

Many health care advocates in the North Country are glad the law has been upheld. Dr. Florence Bero has a family practice in Canton. She says people who aren’t in the health industry don’t understand the crisis in care.  According to Bero, many people can’t afford health insurance and they put off going to the doctor, even if they’re sick. Bero said, “We see a lot of patients that don’t have insurance that wait until they’re very ill until they seek care. At that point, treatment options are still available, but they are somewhat limited. I’m hoping will seek care sooner in course of their illness, and come to us not quite as ill.”

For those that don’t qualify for Medicaid, New York and other states are creating health care exchanges, to create a more competitive market for health insurance. Under the law, most people would be required to purchase insurance. There are subsidies for families at different income levels. Among other things, insurance companies won’t be able to drop people when they get sick. And they can’t exclude children from coverage because they have pre-existing conditions.

Democratic Congressman Bill Owens of Plattsburgh voted for the law in 2009.  He says he was surprised that Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion, and he’s glad that it’s been held constitutional. “I don’t think this is a victory for anyone other than my constituents who are in need of health care coverage.  This whole bill is focused on getting people insured so that we get better health care outcomes and we get a reduction in costs,” said Owens.

Owens’ Republican opponent in the November election painted a different picture.  Matt Doheny held a press conference Thursday and said, “The Supreme Court told us that Obamacare is one of the biggest tax hikes in American history. And by extension, that means Bill Owens' very first vote in Congress was to raise taxes on the American people.”

Bill Owens calls that a misstatement. He says people who currently have insurance are subsidizing those who don’t have insurance.  Owens says when the uninsured go to a hospital emergency room, and can’t pay their bills, the costs get shifted onto government programs and insurance premiums. He said, “That’s the way this should be viewed: we are being taxed by those who either do not choose to or are not able to secure insurance.”

Matt Doheny says he’s in favor of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Republicans in the House have already said they will move to repeal when they return to legislative session next month. Congressman Owens calls that political posturing by a party that has nothing positive to offer on this issue.

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