Now that the waiting is over, Latino advocates and legislators on both sides of the aisle are reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision to basically uphold President Obama’s landmark health care legislation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“Today Obamacare became Americacare,” said Democratic New Jersey Senator Bob Menéndez, praising the decision and saying it was especially important for Latinos, who are currently the most uninsured group in the country. Recent figures have shown half of all Hispanics do not have a regular doctor, said Menéndez. He said the legislation “has given our health care system back to patients and doctors, and not to insurance executives.”
Jessica González-Rojas, of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, calls it a “breakthrough” for Hispanic women. “ACA provisions will expand access to life-saving cervical cancer screenings and other preventive health services, and beginning in August, the ACA also provides access to contraception without expensive co-pays, ensuring that every woman can plan the timing and spacing of her children,” she said.
This view is not shared by Josefina Carbonell, who was Assistant Secretary for Aging at Health and Human Services, and who supports Mitt Romney’s view that the health care legislation should be repealed. “I’m extremely concerned about the entire policy piece,” says Carbonell. She expressed concerns over the expansion of Medicaid, as well as the shifts in the way Medicare funds are used. “Health care is an individual right, and it should be tailored to your needs, instead of the government making decisions,” says Carbonell.
Latino Republicans have vowed to continue to fight “Obamacare,” and House Speaker Eric Cantor scheduled a vote in Congress to repeal the health care legislation for July 11th. Senator Marco Rubio, on Bloomberg tv today, said the President is in fact “raising taxes” by making Americans buy health insurance. “Why are these guys so obsessed with telling people what to do and backing it with the force of law?” Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney vowed to “repeal Obamacare” if he were elected President.
Latino Democrats like Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva countered back. “Despite today’s victory, Republicans in Congress will continue their assault on universal health care,” said Grijalva. “Throughout this year, GOP lawmakers have tried to repeal and cut back health care benefits, including Medicare and Medicaid.”
“It’s time to move forward, roll up our sleeves, and work together to get our economy back on track and create jobs,” said California Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sánchez. “I hope my Republican colleagues in Congress will join me in this effort, rather than focusing on new attempts to try to strip Americans of their health care rights.”
The Supreme Court basically upheld the administration’s claim that requiring Americans to purchase health insurance was constitutional. The majority ruled that this individual mandate, as it is called, should be referred to as a tax, which Congress has the constitutional right to do. The majority of the Justices ruled that the government cannot force the states to participate in the Medicaid expansion, which is a crucial way the administration hopes to expand coverage. (One of the exceptions was Justice Sonia Sotomayor). Latinos would stand to benefit from the Medicaid expansion, since any family making up to $29,000 would qualify for coverage.
“We believe 3 million Latinos would gain coverage through the Medicaid expansion,” says Jennifer Ng’andu, a health policy expert at the National Council of La Raza. Ng’andu says she is still hopeful states will want to participate. “For the first few years the federal government pays 100 percent of the Medicaid funds; it’s a good deal for states,” she says.
Since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the law has been a big source of contention between those who think the law is too burdensome for companies and individuals, and those who say it will finally give Americans a chance at basic health insurance, a standard in virtually all of the world’s developed countries.
“It should be pretty clear by now that I didn’t do this because it was good politics – I did it because I believed it was good for the country,” said President Obama after the ruling, hinting at the drawn-out political battle since he signed the law two years ago.
Before the decision was announced, many thought conservative Chief Justice John Roberts would rule against the health care law. But Latina constitutional law scholar Enid Trucios-Haynes says Chief Justice Roberts took the long view, and helped preserve the Court’s legitimacy.
“The Court’s role is not to decide if a legislation is good policy or not, but whether it is constitutional.” adds Trucios-Haynes. “The ruling shows Chief Justice Roberts was thinking of his role, and how history will view him, as well as the Supreme Court, on how it dealt with such important legislation.”