FARGO – North Dakota politicians stood firm on party lines Thursday after the Supreme Court published a ruling that upholds the most significant and controversial portions of the 2010 health care reform law.
Similar to national reactions, Democrats in North Dakota voiced support for the Supreme Court’s decision, while vowing to improve the law as it exists now. Republicans doubled-down on pledges to “repeal and replace” the law, repeating a mantra they’ve had for more than two years.
Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad said that while the court’s ruling “ends the debate and confirms that the health care reform law is constitutional,” he plans to work in the Senate to improve the law as it exists today.
Conrad cited various benefits of the law, which Democrats have used to promote and defend it – including claims that it will eventually reduce the deficit, slow the growth of health care costs and extend affordable insurance to millions of Americans.
“I have said all along that the law is not perfect,” Conrad said. “Now that the court has ruled and this debate is over, we should work to eliminate provisions that don’t make sense, improve on others, and add common sense provisions that can further control costs and improve patient care outcomes.”
Meanwhile, the Democrats who’ll lead North Dakota’s ballot in November offered more measured reactions to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp – who’s drawn criticism for her evolving position on the 2010 law – reiterated her support for the more popular elements of the law while also pledging to “fix the bad pieces.”
“There are good things in the health care bill, like keeping insurance companies from dropping people for pre-existing conditions, closing the Medicare Donut Hole, and allowing parents to keep their children covered until they turn 26,” Heitkamp said in a statement.
“Today’s decision is a chance to finally put two years of political posturing and gridlock on pause, and do what’s right for North Dakota,” Heitkamp added. “Moving forward, I’ll work with both parties to control costs, keep the good pieces intact and fix the bad pieces, like the individual mandate.”
After President Obama signed health care reform into law in 2010, Heitkamp headlined rallies praising the legislation and what it could do for North Dakotans.
However, on the law’s two year anniversary this spring, Heitkamp said - for the first time publicly – that she’s “often said that it’s not a perfect law.” She cited the individual mandate as among the problems with the law.
The individual mandate requires all Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine. Critics of the law argued the mandate was unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court upheld the mandate today, ruling it was allowed under the U.S. government’s power to levy taxes.
Like Heitkamp, Democratic U.S. House candidate Pam Gulleson offered cautious praise.
Gulleson said the Supreme Court decision is important for North Dakotans, but “I think it’s clear that there is much that still needs to be changed in the health care law.”
“As I’ve traveled the state, I’ve heard over and over how our current health care system means one medical emergency can ruin a life of building financial security,” Gulleson said. “Today’s ruling is important for the thousands of North Dakotans who have faced these challenges. That’s why I’m committed to work to improve our health care system.”
Gulleson vowed to protect key benefits of the law, similar to those that Heitkamp and Conrad cited.
She also said, “we need to work to improve the health care law to protect small businesses from undue burden and start getting serious about finding ways to reduce the overall costs of health care.”
Across the aisle, North Dakota Republicans united around a pledge to fully repeal the 2010 law and offered general solutions on how to replace it.
“The simple fact remains: the massive government takeover of health care that President Obama forced on the American people is not the right approach,” Republican Senate candidate and current North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg said in a statement.
Berg said he’d continue to “fight back” against the law in favor of legislation that “puts patients and their doctors – not government bureaucrats – back in control of their health care decisions.”
Specifically, Berg’s congressional spokesman Chris Pack said Berg would favor “fiscally-sustainable bipartisan health care reform that occurs in an open process to protect our most vulnerable residents.”
“We need bipartisan health care reform that contains a frontier states provision, closes the donut hole, and doesn’t deny coverage for pre-existing conditions,” Pack said.
Berg has been a consistent supporter of repealing health care reform. He cast a vote on the House floor last year to repeal the bill in its entirety and his office says he’s also voted 30 times to repeal, dismantle and defund portions of the 2010 law.
Republican U.S. House candidate Kevin Cramer said he was “disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s decision and also reiterated his support for full repeal of the law.
Cramer echoed Republican criticisms of health care reform, including how it will “drive the cost of healthcare even higher for working families and strain our healthcare providers and small businesses.”
“Despite this ruling, it remains disastrous legislation that over 70 percent of North Dakotans did not support,” Cramer said, referencing an oft-cited Zogby International poll from fall 2009, when the legislation was being debated in Congress.
“Americans deserve better from their government,” Cramer said. “If elected to Congress, I will support market-based solutions that empower patients and doctors and malpractice reforms that protect consumers and incent healthcare providers to do the right thing.”
Republican Sen. John Hoeven, who also opposes the 2010 law, said the Supreme Court ruling “makes it clear that President Obama’s health care law … is not only government-run health care, but is a tax on the American people.”
“This is not the approach Americans want or deserve,” Hoeven said. “Congress must repeal and replace this government-run approach with step-by-step, market-based reforms that lower costs and empower individuals to choose their own insurance and health care provider.”