Landmark health care ruling not the final word

With its landmark 5-4 ruling Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court settled once and for all whether the Obama administration’s signature health care reform law is constitutional. It is.

Whether the law will be on the books long enough for some of its major provisions to take effect in 2014 – including the divisive individual mandate – well, that’s another story.

And, by and large, that decision now rests in the hands of the American people, who will go to the polls in five short months to elect a president, 435 representatives and 33 senators who will make that very determination.

Certainly, for the millions of Americans who already have benefited by the early provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the high court’s decision not to strike down the entire law is good news.

It’s good news for children up to age 19, who cannot be denied coverage by insurers for pre-existing conditions.

It’s good news for dependent children, who can continue to remain on their parents’ policies up to age 26.

It’s good news for Americans of any age, who don’t have to worry about lifetime caps on the dollar value of their coverage or having their policies canceled after they get sick.

In fact, some of these provisions have become so popular that several national insurers – including Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare – announced earlier this month that they would continue to offer them even if the court found the entire law unconstitutional.

As expected, reaction to the court’s historic ruling broke along party lines.

President Barack Obama, who came within a single vote of seeing his legacy wiped away, hailed the decision as a “victory for people all over the country.”

Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney – standing behind a podium adorned with a “REPLACE & REPEAL OBAMACARE” sign – pledged to overturn the law, saying, “Obamacare was bad law yesterday; it’s bad law today.”

That sentiment was shared by the three Republican members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation: Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Reps. Charles Bass and Frank Guinta.

For Ayotte, the former attorney general, the sting may have been made worse by the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts cited one of her cases four times in writing the majority opinion.

“When a court confronts an unconstitutional statute, its endeavor must be to conserve, not destroy, the legislation,” he wrote, referencing Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, a New Hampshire parental notification case that made its way to the court in 2005.

In that decision, the court ruled that states can adopt parental notification laws, but the one passed in New Hampshire a few years earlier under Gov. Craig Benson was constitutionally flawed. Ultimately, Gov. John Lynch signed a bill repealing the parental notification law in 2007.

While the court’s ruling is a major victory for the president, Republicans stood poised to benefit politically from the ruling either way.

If the court had struck down the law, it would have negated the president’s signature accomplishment just months before the fall election. Now that the court has upheld the law, it no doubt will mobilize his detractors to elect candidates who have pledged to repeal it.

In the meantime, however, the law remains in force, expected to bring health care coverage to roughly 30 million uninsured Americans by the time it is fully implemented.

So says the supreme court in the land.