Supreme Court health care ruling: Advocates praise it, tout Colorado reforms

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Big news today for Barack Obama and, you know, tens of millions of Americans across the country: The Supreme Court of the United States has finally issued its ruling on the Affordable Care Act, essentially deciding to keep most of it intact. And advocates in Colorado are cheering the news, saying it affirms the state's ongoing efforts to reform health care.

This decision is significant for a lot of reasons -- including that it is an important victory for Obama as he campaigns for re-election, and for Democrats in Congress. But for activists in Colorado, the ruling on the measure, popularly dubbed Obamacare, means that thousands of families across the state will have access to affordable, quality health care.

Supporters of the law were also quick to point out that Colorado has been a leader in health care reform and has already taken significant steps in moving forward with aspects of Obama's overhauled health care plan. While anticipation of the court's ruling has cast some uncertainty over the Affordable Care Act, it has in fact been the law since it was signed by the president, and local advocates celebrating the decision today noted that Colorado has not wasted time pushing forward with reforms.

"People are going to be looking to Colorado as a model for implementing the law, because we have been doing these things," said Melissa Hart, director of the Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law at the University of Colorado. "One of the things that in some ways is most wonderful about this decision is that it will allow people to stop dragging their feet and start working on how to implement it."

For those who haven't been following closely, the ruling basically upheld the "individual mandate" that requires nearly all Americans to get health insurance, by arguing that it falls unders Congress' taxing power. Today's decision did, however, put restrictions on the expansion of Medicaid.

Experts with whom we spoke argue that Colorado has already taken important steps in health care reform, including expanding Medicaid, and that puts it in a good position to capitalize on the Affordable Care Act. The state has also been a leader in passing bipartisan legislation to create an exchange -- essentially a health care market place where consumers can purchase insurance. On the private side, Colorado has also started implementing consumer protections regulations that align with Obama's plan.

"In Colorado, we've been moving forward with implementation regardless of the Supreme Court," says Serena Woods director of strategic engagement of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. "There's no longer going to be any doubt. We are going to be able to continue to expand access."

Woods, who is also behind the local website ThanksObamacare.org, aimed at spreading the word about the positive impacts of Obama's plan, admits that it would have been a difficult and complicated process to respond if the Supreme Court had ruled differently or got rid of the individual mandate.

"Luckily, I don't have to think about that," she says, adding that as "various pieces of the law continue...to affect people's lives, it will also help people in understanding why this law really is an amazing thing."

To see how Colorado compares to other states and why in some areas it is leading the way, check out interactive maps at statereform.org and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Page down to read more local reactions as well as statistics on how Colorado is specifically impacted by this decision. To put some local perspective on this decision, here are some stats sent out this morning from the Colorado Children's Campaign. The organization notes that in two years, the Affordable Care Act has given two million Coloradans access to health care and expanded services, including:

• 291,000 Colorado children with pre-existing health conditions who can't be denied care for that reason.

• More than 40,000 young adults under age 26 who'll remain on their parents' health insurance plans while they pursue their educational and career dreams.

• 521,000 children who no longer have to worry about lifetime limits on insurance coverage.

"The Affordable Care Act provides security and peace of mind for all these families that know they'll have access to affordable care," says Cody Belzley, vice president of the health initiative for the Colorado Children's Campaign. "We are celebrating." For Belzley, the decision affirms what the state has already been doing: "Colorado is among the top ten states in the coutnry moving forward, even before the Affordable Care Act."

This makes Hillary Jorgensen, director of Colorado Progressive Action, proud to be a resident here.

"We are part of a handful of states that have moved forward," says Jorgensen, noting how difficult the process can be. "I can barely navigate the private insurance market on my own."

There was a lot of uncertainty about how the Supreme Court would decide, which explains why Jorsengen is "really relieved and really happy. It's really going to make a difference for a lot of people.... We are talking about people's lives. People's lives are going to get better."

CU's Hart notes that the decision also has important legal ramifications. "The big victory here is for the rule of law, in the sense that courts are not...[part of] the political machine."

On the political side of things, Governor John Hickenlooper echoed the sentiments of advocates in a statement his office sent out this morning: "The court's decision simply keeps Colorado on the path toward reform we've been on since the Affordable Care Act became law. We must also remember that controlling costs across the entire health system is a critical component of expanding coverage."

Here are some stats from the governor's office about the importance of the Affordable Care Act in the state:

• 1,331 people with pre-existing conditions have received coverage through a new high risk pool, GettingUsCovered.

• 43,997 young adults in Colorado have gained insurance coverage.

• More than 380,000 seniors have taken advantage of preventative services - such as mammograms and colonoscopies - or a free annual wellness visit with their doctor.

• Nearly 1 million individuals in Colorado with private health insurance have gained preventive service coverage.

• Almost 2 million residents, including 696,000 women and 521,000 children, are free from worrying about lifetime limits on coverage - freeing cancer patients and individuals suffering from other chronic diseases from having to worry about going without treatment.

• 40,000 people with Medicare in Colorado have received a $250 rebate and discounts to help cover the cost of their prescription drugs when they hit the Medicare coverage gap.

Unsurprisingly, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who was part of the multistate case challenging the individual health insurance mandate, sent out a statement of strong disapproval.

"Today's decision is extraordinary and unexpected, and it is frankly a blow to our constitutional system of federalism. The Court has endorsed Congress's unprecedented decision to mandate that individual Americans buy a particular product or service or pay an economic sanction," the statement said. He believes the ruling codifies "an unprecedented expansion of federal power."

For advocates pleased with the decision, today's news is an opportunity to reaffirm the commitment to making affordable health care a reality.

"Today, we are going to celebrate," says the CCC's Belzley. "Tomorrow morning, we are going to re-dedicate ourselves to the hard work of implementing the law."

More from our Politics archive: "Doug Linkhart, ex-councilman, hit while cycling to Bike To Work Day event"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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