Tennessee reactions to the US Supreme Court's health care ruling

Friday, June 19, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 25

NASHVILLE (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold health insurance subsidies in states that do not operate their own insurance exchanges means the more than 155,000 Tennesseans who use the subsidies will not lose their health insurance. Here's a look at who is getting subsidies in Tennessee and what Tennesseans are saying about the ruling:

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SUBSIDIES IN TENNESSEE

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 155,753 Tennesseans were receiving subsidies as of March 31, 2015. Those subsidies averaged $218 per month, making the total monthly subsidy to Tennesseans nearly $34 million. If enrollees lost their subsidies, premiums were expected to rise by 222 percent. Most of those people were expected to lose coverage because they would not be able to pay the higher premiums.

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THE INSURED

Teresa Birdsong had not had health insurance for a decade before she signed up for a subsidized plan on the federal exchange in January 2014. The 53-year old Nashvillian cleans houses and sits with elderly people for a living, earning $22,000 last year.

Birdsong says she previously got health care through a local clinic that charges based on income. The clinic was wonderful, she said, but they could only do so much. Her high blood pressure was never under control until she got private insurance and went to see a specialist, she said. After that visit, it was under control within two weeks.

She also was recently diagnosed with diabetes, which she keeps under control with medication. Birdsong said she pays $36 a month for her insurance and gets a subsidy of more than $300. Once she pays $500 out of pocket, all of her medications and doctors' visits are covered.

After learning about the Supreme Court decision on Thursday, Birdsong said, "I am so grateful!"

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CALL TO CHANGE THE LAW

Several Republican leaders used the Thursday ruling to call on lawmakers to develop a lternatives to the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate health committee, said in a statement, "Republicans are ready to reduce the cost of health care so more people can afford it, put patients back in charge, and restore freedom and choice to the health care market."

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker released a statement saying that the ruling shows it is "up to Congress to come together around a responsible solution that provides relief from the damaging effects of the president's health care law ... so affordable plans that meet the actual needs of Tennesseans can openly and effectively compete for their business."

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CALL TO EXPAND MEDICAID

Several supporters of the health care law used the ruling as an opportunity to call for expanding Medicaid in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee plan, which would have extended coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans, was rejected earlier this year by the General Assemb ly.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper released a statement Thursday saying, "Tennessee legislators said they were waiting for the ruling. We now have it. They should finish the job and provide protection for all Tennesseans by passing Insure Tennessee."

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh issued a statement saying he hopes the governor and speakers call legislators back to Nashville immediately to work on Insure Tennessee.

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GOV. HASLAM REACTION

"I'm disappointed in the sense that I really did think this was an opportunity to fix some things in the law that were broken," said Gov. Bill Haslam. But he added, "I am pleased for those folks who have insurance subsidies now and for the insurance companies that have a more predictable environment to operate in."