Union leaders applaud Supreme Court decision upholding Affordable Care Act


The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act keeps the country moving toward a health care system that ensures affordable, high-quality coverage for all Americans, Minnesota’s union leaders said.

The court’s narrow, 5-4 decision to keep intact the landmark 2010 law, known as “Obamacare,” was announced Thursday. It drew cheers from workers, retirees, students and other groups whose access to health care and prescription drugs has increased as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Shar Knutson, president of the 300,000-member Minnesota AFL-CIO, called it a “great day for working Americans” and said the decision “clears the way for millions of people to have the access to the affordable, high quality health care that had previously been denied.”

Knutson added: “Minnesota’s union members worked hard to make this law a reality, and we are pleased the court affirmed its constitutionality. Now that this issue has been settled, we are hopeful our elected leaders will come together to craft policies that get middle class Americans back to work.”

Knutson and other supporters of the Affordable Care Act pointed to several benefits of the law that Minnesotans will continue to enjoy as a result of the court ruling.

• Seniors with Medicare coverage are saving money on prescription drugs as a result of the new health care law. Minnesota’s seniors already have saved millions since the law passed, according to statistics from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

• Insurance companies may not deny coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions, a provision that has made coverage accessible for hundreds of Minnesotans.

• Thousands of young adults, up to age 26, are able to stay on their parents’ insurance plans as they transition into the workforce. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics show that 35,000 Minnesotans have taken advantage of this provision of the Affordable Care Act.

“Seniors will continue to be spared from having to choose between paying for prescription drugs and putting food on the table,” Knutson said. “Parents can rest easier knowing their children are covered. Bankruptcies due to health care costs will soon become a thing of the past.”

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota President Julie Schnell, whose union represents thousands of workers in hospitals and care centers statewide, said the decision rejects the cynical, partisan idea that “we are all on our own” when it comes to our health.

“SEIU Healthcare Minnesota’s nurses, doctors, and caregivers know firsthand there’s no room for such extreme politics in the overall governance of our health care system,” Schnell said. “Justices made a decision that now is not the time to slow down the benefits of the law that is making health care more affordable.”

Health care advocates warned, however, that the ruling will not stop opponents of the Affordable Care Act from seeking to dismantle it in Congress. The House of Representatives, in fact, is scheduled to vote on repealing the law next month.

“Today is a tremendous victory for seniors, their children, and their grandchildren,” said Edward Coyle, director of the 4 million-member Alliance for Retired Americans. “But we cannot rest on our laurels. In the 2012 elections we cannot let politicians roll back the progress we have made.”

Others warned that more work remains in order to achieve a health care system that works for all Americans. Linda Hamilton, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, called the Affordable Care Act “an important first step,” but noted that an estimated 250,000 Minnesotans remain uninsured.

“As nurses, we don’t want to see a single patient suffering because he or she doesn’t have adequate and affordable health care coverage,” Hamilton said. “We need Medicare for all, and it’s our mission as nurses to keep this country moving toward that goal.”

Many unions will join a public celebration of the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act Friday in Minneapolis. The celebration is set to begin at 11 a.m. in Government Plaza.