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High court upholds federal insurance subsidies for thousands of Georgians
Local health care providers applaud decision
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More than 412,000 Georgians can receive federal tax subsidies designed to make health insurance affordable after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the nationwide assistance in a ruling Thursday.

The decision was welcome news to local health care providers.

“We are pleased that exchange plan members who are currently receiving subsidies will be able to continue to afford their health insurance coverage and maintain access to affordable wellness care, prescription medications and care for illness or injury when needed,” said Melissa Tymchuk, spokesperson for the Northeast Georgia Health System. “We know that many in our community have been anxious about their ability to continue to afford insurance for themselves and their families, and we are pleased that their wait on this decision is over.”

Challengers of the Affordable Care Act argued that only people enrolled in a state-run exchange should be eligible for the subsidies. If the court agreed, thousands of Georgians using the federal exchange could have been unable to afford their plans without the subsidies.

But the court’s ruling means little will change for those residents using the federal exchange to buy insurance after Gov. Nathan Deal and other state leaders decided against setting up a state exchange.

Deal, a Republican, has said that a state exchange would become too expensive. He also opted not to accept expansion of Medicaid eligibility permitted in the health care law.

State lawmakers also have passed a law requiring their approval for any changes to health care coverage.

The state’s U.S. senators, each Republicans, swiftly released statements disagreeing with the court. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue pledged to continue working for the health care law’s repeal by Congress.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, called the high court’s ruling “disappointing.”

“Clearly, the Supreme Court’s decision is flawed, and continues to further the president’s liberal agenda,” he added. “Now that the backbone of Obamacare has been upheld by the Supreme Court, the best option left to Congress, despite voting to repeal or defund the law 66 times, is to try to replace it.”

And Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, also a Republican, said the court’s decision “threatened our constitutional structure.”

Supporters of the health care law, buoyed by the court’s ruling, said the next step will be convincing state leaders to accept Medicaid expansion.

Cindy Zeldin, executive director of the advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, called the ruling a “big relief” for staffers who gathered around computers awaiting the decision.

State Senate Democrats lauded the court’s decision, and looked to what the future of the Affordable Care Act held for Georgians.

“Our attention now must turn to more than 600,000 Georgians who are not covered under a health care policy by expanding Medicaid and accepting the federal funds available,” Senate Democrats said in joint statement. “This funding represents tax dollars Georgians have already paid into the system and it is only right that money flows back to Georgia in order to provide health care to our most vulnerable citizens, protect our rural hospitals, create jobs and improve economic development."

The court’s decision provided a level of assurance for local health care providers.

Mimi Collins, CEO of The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville, said that without federal subsidies for health insurance, the viability of small local hospitals and clinics could have been threatened as the cost of uncompensated care would likely rise while the patient base declined.  

“If it had not been upheld, I think that there would have been … a lot of long-term risk to health care, in general,” she added. “Enrollment in (the) exchange is picking up. The overall goal is having more people insured.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.