Georgians petition Deal on health reform

By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA — Two dozen or so health professionals and advocates delivered 1,000 petitions to Gov. Nathan Deal’s office Monday urging him to drop Georgia’s challenge to the federal health reform law.

At that same moment, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens was in the Supreme Court during the first day of oral arguments on the constitutionality of the bill. Georgia, represented by Olens, was one of 26 states challenging the law.

The supporters gathered on the statehouse steps described the state’s action in harsh terms.

“We are signing death warrants for people who want health care,” said nurse Brenda Lankford.

Real-estate agent Gwen Jones said that once her health premiums rose to $2,000 per month just to cover herself she had to drop the policy. She couldn’t switch to a more affordable policy, she said, because her pre-existing condition as having diabetic tendencies prevented other companies from offering coverage.

“It was truly devastating, and then I learned there are thousands and thousands of other Georgians, including my peers, are in the same position,” she said.

The law would require insurance companies to take on the risks of insuring anyone who applies, regardless of their health or certainty of medical needs.

Georgians for a Healthy Future, organizers of the petition drive, estimates there are 2 million people in the state without health insurance, either because they have a pre-existing condition or because they can’t afford the premiums.

The 2-year-old federal law championed by President Barack Obama aims to expand access to insurance for those with pre-existing conditions by requiring people in good health to buy policies. The premiums of people with few claims then subsidize the treatment of those with greater medical needs in what amounts to taxing the healthy to give to the unhealthy.

Republicans like Deal and Olens argue the federal government doesn’t have the authority under the U.S. Constitution to require individuals to buy insurance.

After the first day of arguments before the nation’s highest court, Olens refused to speculate on which way the justices were leaning.

Monday’s debate was about whether the court could even decide the case under federal law before the penalties for not buying a policy begin to be issued in two years. A Reconstruction Era law prohibits courts from ruling on the legality of taxes until people begin paying them.

“The lawsuit brought by Georgia and 25 other states is appropriate at this time, and we need not wait until 2014 when the penalties mandated by the president’s federal healthcare plan begin to take effect,” Olens said. “The issues at stake are too significant to delay a decision from our nation’s highest Court.”

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