published Friday, June 29th, 2012

Chattanooga locals cheer, jeer ruling to allow health care law

Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell
Virginia Vollmer, left, shouts pro-health care reform views opposing June Griffin, right, during a health care reform rally at Miller Park on Friday.
Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell Virginia Vollmer, left, shouts pro-health care reform views opposing June Griffin, right, during a health care reform rally at Miller Park on Friday.
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Do you agree with the Supreme Court ruling?

Local residents responded to a much-anticipated and momentous Supreme Court ruling with outrage and welcome as they, like much of the nation, tried to decipher what the decision means for them.

"It's tyranny," said 72-year-old June Griffin. "It's a fine on liberty. This is wrong and bottom line is I'm not doing it."

Griffin, who lives in Dayton, said she does not use Social Security or Medicare and will refuse to buy health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, those who do not buy insurance will have to pay a penalty on their federal income tax.

"When the IRS comes after me, I'm going to sue them," she said.

But 67-year-old Ann Pierre welcomes the ruling. The act helps her save money on prescriptions drugs for herself, her husband and her father, she said. If it had been in place only a few years ago, she could have provided health coverage for her granddaughter while she was in college, she added.

She said she has struggled at times to get her insurance to provide coverage.

"I've seen a lot of horror stories. You don't realize what can happen until you experience it," Pierre said. "As Americans we don't like to be forced to do things, but I think it's a good thing in terms of helping people."

Stacy Griffin, of Rhea County, said the ruling doesn't change her mind -- she and her husband will not buy insurance for themselves or their five children. But she is not sure how the ruling will affect their two small businesses, where they employ three people.

"This is a huge disappointment in the leaders of our country," she said.

Comments on the Chattanooga Times Free Press Facebook page ranged from people calling the ruling a blow to American freedom to socialism to people sharing stories about their hope to get health coverage under the requirements.

Clif Cleaveland, a retired Chattanooga doctor who writes a column for the Times Free Press, has supported the law that passed in 2010.

"In my years of practice, the most troubling thing I saw was people who had no health coverage," he said. "[The act] isn't perfect but it is a template to work on going forward. It was a law that was duly passed by both houses of Congress."

The Supreme Court ruled that it's constitutional for Congress to charge people a tax if they do not purchase health insurance, an unusual step, according to Doug Griswold, a health care attorney with Chattanooga's Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, P.C. No one expected the ruling to uphold the individual mandate as a tax rather than as a provision under the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce.

Taxing someone for not purchasing an item is unique in some ways, Griswold said, but the court used the same basic reasoning that requires people to pay taxes on gas or other items. In this instance, the reasoning is simply reversed -- someone can be taxed for not buying something, he said.

In the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, it appeared that the court had taken pains to look at every aspect in order to uphold the law, Griswold said.

"They felt they had a duty to find the law constitutional," he said.

Cleaveland agreed.

"It would have created a disturbing precedent if they hadn't upheld it," Cleaveland said.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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