'Obamacare' Ruling Puts New Emphasis On State Governments

PHOTO: Bobby Jindal

There are very few certainties in politics, but the Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act, the controversial health care law colloquially referred to as "Obamacare," resulted in one of those rare sure things: It assured that the debate surrounding the law will rage on for the foreseeable future.

Almost immediately after the Supreme Court announced its ruling, Mitt Romney vowed to repeal the law if elected in the fall. Republicans in the House and Senate got a new talking point -- Republican control of both chambers will greatly improve their ability to facilitate this repeal.

And several Republican governors, including Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, said that they would wait until November to take any sort of action to begin actually to implement the law.

Democrats need to maintain control in only one of the following three places -- the White House, the Senate, or the House of Representatives -- to, at the very least, seriously hinder Republicans' ability to repeal the law entirely. If Romney is elected president, there are a handful of legal options he can take unilaterally, without the help of Congress, to go after the law, but he'll be greatly limited. And Republicans will face a time crunch, given that the law will take full effect in 2014.

If the Affordable Care Act continues to be the law of the land, however, state governors will have the job of implementing several requirements outlined by the reform. For example, under the law, each state is required to set up state exchanges where residents can, if they choose, select a healthcare plan (residents can also go through employer if that is an option for them). The exchanges do not need to be up and running until 2014, but states are required to demonstrate by Jan. 1, 2013, that their exchanges are in progress, and will be operational by the 2014 deadline. If they fall behind, the Department of Health and Human Services would then come in and set up the exchanges.

"If the state decides not to establish an exchange, then the federal government establishes the exchange for them. So it's kind of a pick-your-poison scenario, if you will," said Renee M. Landers, a professor of law at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. Presumably, governors who are resistant to setting up exchanges would be more resistant to the federal government establishing the exchanges for them.

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