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Supreme Court Ruling Means Arkansas Can Continue Current Exchange, State Officials React

supreme court healthcare
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Thursday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that subsidies for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, are legal means that in Arkansas, nearly 70,000 Arkansans will continue to receive assistance. 

The state currently runs its exchange in a partnership with the federal government. Middle-income people purchasing insurance on the exchange receive average monthly subsidies of $284, according to Kaiser Health News and NPR.  

The decision also comes as Arkansas lawmakers are already considering changes through a Health Reform Task Force, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson called for in January, when he asked the legislature to continue the so-called "private option" through the end of 2016.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Hutchinson, a Republican, said:

I am surprised at the lengths to which this court will go in an effort to stretch statutory interpretation to uphold the Affordable Care Act. The decision is disappointing. For now, the court’s decision maintains the status quo. In terms of what this means for Arkansas, we will continue our work with the task force to find innovative solutions for Medicaid and healthcare reform. I am convinced now more than ever that we need to proceed with caution to measure the costs to the taxpayers and the reliability of the outcome as we consider the potential of a state exchange.

Arkansas is one of nearly three dozen states that will not have to change their current health exchange systems. However, the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace Board has been actively pursuing a 2017 launch of a state based exchange since 2013 and has already procured nearly $100 million in federal funds to do so. The Legislature's vote to move toward a state exchange was crafted before the King/Burwell case based on arguments of more localized control of the key pillar of the federal health care law.

Paul Cunningham, the executive vice president of the Arkansas Hospital Association, says this is good news for hospitals and their patients, but he says the decision was unexpected by many.

"It had to be a surprise to a lot of people because I think that the general belief was that things tended to be leaning in favor of the plaintiffs on this, strictly by interpretation of the language of the law,” says Cunningham.

He notes that this eases any previous sense of uncertainty held by the insured.

Just the fact of a patient coming in to a hospital—or going to see a physician for that matter—who has insurance, it certainly relieves stress on the patient, knowing that they do have a source of payment, and it also helps the hospital.”

Other reaction to the high court's ruling Thursday was quick by current and former officials, as well as those who have been involved in the debate over healthcare. Below are some written statements that have been released.

U.S. Representative French Hill of Arkansas's 2nd Congressional District:

Today’s decision is disappointing, but it doesn’t change the fact that the President’s healthcare law is bad policy that is increasing costs and reducing patient choice for millions of Americans. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to pass real, patient-centered healthcare reform that is both affordable and consumer friendly

Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families:

The Supreme Court made the right decision. Tax credits for health coverage benefit millions of people in the U.S., including about 50,000 Arkansans. The Supreme Court found what most experts believed from the beginning: the ACA is clear that credits are available in both federal and state exchanges. This is good news for Arkansas families who need that financial help to afford coverage. If the Court struck down the law, coverage for about 50,000 Arkansans would have been lost. Insurance companies that have adjusted their business plans based on those credits would have been destabilized. So this is good for businesses and it’s good for Arkansas families. The credits the Court upheld make health coverage affordable for thousands of Arkansans. With the tax credit, the average monthly premium for a marketplace plan in Arkansas was reduced from $387 to $94. In addition to the nearly 50,000 Arkansans who benefit from subsidies, over 250,000 get coverage through the state’s Private Option, another part of the Affordable Care Act. We applaud the court’s decision and look forward to getting more people covered in Arkansas. Now it’s time for all of us to move forward and work on issues that matter most to consumers. We need to keep affordable coverage options in place for children and families. And we need to eliminate the coverage gap in Arkansas.

Former Governor Mike Huckabee, who is also a candidate for president:

Today's King v. Burwell decision, which protects and expands ObamaCare, is an out-of-control act of judicial tyranny. Our Founding Fathers didn't create a 'do-over' provision in our Constitution that allows unelected, Supreme Court justices the power to circumvent Congress and rewrite bad laws. The Supreme Court cannot legislate from the bench, ignore the Constitution, and pass a multi-trillion dollar 'fix' to ObamaCare simply because Congress misread what the states would actually do. The architects and authors of ObamaCare were intentional in the way they wrote the law. The courts have no constitutional authority to rescue Congress from creating bad law. The solution is for Congress to admit they screwed up, repeal the 'nightmare of Obamacare', and let states road-test real health care reforms. Everywhere I go, I talk to American families who keep getting punched in the gut with outrageous insurance premiums and infuriating hospital bills. ObamaCare was railroaded through Congress to 'solve' our healthcare problems, but five years later, American families are getting railroaded by runaway mandates, big government bureaucracy, and out-of-control healthcare costs. ObamaCare is a $2.2 trillion Washington disaster that raided billions from Medicare and did nothing to fix our broken system of 'sick care,' which rewards irresponsibility and penalizes commonsense. As President, I will protect Medicare, repeal ObamaCare, and pass real reform that will actually lower costs, while focusing on cures and prevention rather than intervention. The status quo is unfair, unaffordable, unsustainable, and completely un-American.

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas:

The government must follow the law as it's written, which is why I believe the Court wrongly decided to approve President Obama’s unlawful implementation of Obamacare. While I respect the Court’s decision, Obamacare remains a fundamentally flawed law that is hurting thousands of Arkansas with higher premiums and copays, higher taxes, and lost jobs. I will work with my colleagues to roll back this unworkable law legislatively and pursue the free-market approach to health care that Arkansans deserve.

U.S. Senator John Boozman:

“Arkansans continue to grapple with the multitude of problems that Obamacare has brought on. From lost coverage to higher out of pocket costs, to fewer choices for patients and more bureaucratic control of the healthcare system, this law has let the American people down. The Court’s ruling doesn’t change that. In fact, Justice Scalia pointedly noted in the dissent that the Court went to great interpretive lengths to protect the law. It is up to Congress to replace this program with market-based solutions that will bring the changes that Obamacare, and all it’s broken promises, simply cannot deliver. I will continue to work with my colleagues to repeal and replace this failed program and give the American people real reform that puts them back in charge of their healthcare decisions.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge:

Today’s ruling is disappointing because the Supreme Court failed to read the plain text of the law and instead ruled to allow the Obama Administration to further implement a preferred policy and rewrite the law instead of what the law actually states – a practice that has become all too common from this Administration. The Court’s decision threatens the foundation upon which this country was built – that only Congress has the power to write and enact laws. As Attorney General, I will continue to fight to defend the rule of law and to protect Arkansans.