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Officials weigh in on Obamacare verdict

Washington state was abuzz with reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, on June 28.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) deemed the verdict "a victory for the health care security and stability of Washington families," which she asserted would ensure "better access, more choices and a health care system that no longer works only for those who can afford it" for families and small business owners.

"It means that health care decisions will be in the hands of patients and their doctors, and that insurance companies will be forced to compete for the business of Washington state families," said Murray, who also considers the ruling to be welcome news for those in Washington state who are already benefitting from the law. "It means that over 62,000 young adults in Washington will be allowed to keep their health coverage, that tens of thousands of Washington seniors will continue to receive checks for Medicare support, that hundreds of thousands of patients will continue to access free preventative services like mammograms and colonoscopies, and that millions of policy holders will continue to see the value of their premium dollar improve."

Murray called for those on all sides of the health care debate to come together, find common ground and move forward.

"As this bill continues to be implemented, there is no reason why we can't all work together to fix what's not working and take advantage of what is," Murray said on June 28. "This law is the product of the stories and struggles of millions of Americans, including countless Washington state families that shared their stories with me. Over the last three years I have heard from young people who couldn't find affordable coverage, seniors facing the Medicare donut hole and everyday Washingtonians who were suddenly faced with catastrophic illnesses. Today, with this ruling, my hope is that they have been provided peace of mind knowing that the change they fought for has not been defeated."

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) pointed to provisions of the Affordable Care Act that she expects will help drive down the cost of health care and increase access to those who don't have coverage.

"It means people can't be denied insurance for preexisting conditions," Cantwell said. "It means small businesses will get tax breaks for providing health insurance. It means cheaper prescription drugs for seniors and it means young adults will be able to stay on their parents' health insurance. It ends unfair penalties on Washington providers who deliver quality health care at a lower cost than other regions around America, and it ensures Washington state's Basic Health Plan will continue to serve as a national model for expanding access to care using bulk purchasing power. And it helps to build Washington state's future health care workforce."

Cantwell echoed Murray in urging Congress to work in a bipartisan manner, to support job creation and bolster the middle class.

"Following today's decision, I will continue to strongly advocate for the principles of increasing access to quality health care, controlling health care costs and improving the efficiency of our medical delivery system," Cantwell said on June 28. "As a member of the Small Business Committee, I will continue to work with Washington state's small businesses to reduce the costs of health care and support small business job growth."

On the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that same day, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen expressed similar sentiments.

"There is no going back to health care of 2009 or even to health care of 1789," said Larsen, WA-02. "Improvements to health care are taking root right now in this country, and that progress must continue."

Like Murray, Larsen deemed the Supreme Court's decision "a welcome victory for middle-class families," and cited the senior citizens of Washington state's 2nd Congressional District "in the donut hole" who have saved more than $800 on prescription medications so far this year, as well as the nearly 33,000 children and 140,000 adults in the Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan counties who now have health insurance that covers preventive care without co-pays or deductibles.

"Now we must keep Medicare sustainable and affordable by closing the prescription drug donut hole and cracking down on fraud," Larsen said. "Now we must make sure middle-class families have diverse options for high-quality affordable health care. Now we must ensure that we meet the needs of Northwest Washington's seniors, veterans and families."

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire had submitted briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court on the merits of the Affordable Care Act, which she had believed would be ruled constitutional.

"The real winners today, however, are the millions of Americans and Washingtonians who have and will now continue to benefit from this act," Gregoire said on June 28. "Among them are more than 50,000 young adults in our state who have gained insurance coverage through their parents' plans, more than 60,000 seniors who have annually received assistance to purchase needed prescription drugs, and the millions here that are no longer subject to unfair practices by insurance companies."

Gregoire anticipated a point in the near future when more than 800,000 people in Washington state would be able to use the state's Health Benefit Exchange to get "the health insurance that they need but currently must go without."

State Attorney General Rob McKenna differed with Gregoire's opinion on the Affordable Care Act, but appreciated the exchange of ideas that it yielded.

"Our system of government provides a series of checks and balances, allowing new laws — especially ones that raise major constitutional questions—to be tested in court," McKenna said. "While we're disappointed that this close decision did not find in the states' favor with regard to the individual mandate, the country benefits from a thoughtful debate about the reach of federal power into the legal rights of the states and the personal financial decisions of all Americans."

State Sen. Val Stevens likewise voiced her disapproval of the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.

"I am extremely disappointed that the court decided that the federal government does not have the right to force us to buy health insurance, yet allowed the law to stand under Congress' authority to tax," said Stevens, R-Arlington, on June 28. "This is not how Obamacare was sold, and it would have never passed in Congress had the administration been honest about the nature of the bill. The president repeatedly denied that his health care reform scheme was a tax increase, but we now know this was not true. The court's decision today proves once and for all that the president has broken one of his main promises to the American people. He has raised taxes on the middle class."

In 2010, Stevens helped introduce the Washington State Health Care Freedom Act, which she touted as protecting employers and workers from taxes, fines and penalties if they refused to participate in nationalized health care. According to Stevens, it also would have made null and void in Washington any action by the federal government found to violate the bill's provisions.

Although Stevens will retire from the Senate when her term ends in January, she plans to remain a vocal advocate for "limited government and free-market health care reforms that respect individual choice and increase health-care affordability."

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