BY TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday upholding most of President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law will likely have little immediate practical effect in Wisconsin, aside from giving Republicans and Democrats plenty to crow about heading into November’s elections.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, an outspoken critic of the reforms, has vowed not to implement any part of the law ahead of the elections. He has said he hopes the next president and Congress will dismantle the reforms. GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has pledged to repeal the plan.
“While the court said it was legal, that doesn’t make it right,” Walker said at a news conference minutes after the court released its decision. “For us to put time and effort and resources into that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Democrats and their allies, meanwhile, praised the ruling as a historic improvement in health care insurance and pressured Walker to move ahead.
“Now that a conservative Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the health care law, we believe that Governor Walker has a moral obligation to restart the implementation process here in Wisconsin,” Robert Kraig, executive director of health care advocacy group Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “We call on Walker to stop playing politics with people’s lives.”
The law would provide health care to about 30 million uninsured people by mandating all Americans carry health insurance, expanding the reach of Medicaid, prohibiting insurance companies from refusing to cover people with pre-existing illnesses and creating new tax subsidies to help offset insurance costs.
Nearly 30 states, including Wisconsin, challenged the law’s constitutionality, taking particular issue with the insurance mandate.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 the mandate is legal because it can be construed as a tax. The court found problems with the Medicaid expansion but said it could proceed as long as the federal government doesn’t threaten to withhold states’ entire Medicaid allotment if they don’t join the expansion.
The ruling hands Obama a giant campaign victory. Republicans immediately began blasting the plan as a tax increase.
Wisconsin Republicans joined right in. State Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, chairwoman of the Senate health committee, said the ruling will energize conservatives and help Romney defeat Obama in Wisconsin.
“The court was wrong,” said state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa. “We are left with virtually no limit on federal power. I believe this is a victory for the authoritarian state. … The bottom line is this is a tax on the American people.”
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a staunch GOP backer, said the ruling will hurt the economy by driving up the cost of health care and perpetuating uncertainty among business leaders.
“Hopefully lawmakers will have the good sense to repeal this misguided law,” WMC President Kurt R. Bauer said in a statement.
Dennis Smith, secretary of the state Department of Health Services, the Walker cabinet agency that would be responsible for implementing the reforms, issued a statement noting that most Wisconsin residents already have health insurance.
Data from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau showed 90.6 percent of people in the state had insurance coverage, tying the state with Maine for third-highest rate of any state.
Still, Democrats insisted Walker move forward.
“The governor should put politics aside,” said state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, “and instead prioritize the health care needs of Wisconsin’s families.”