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Eric Stirgus
By Eric Stirgus June 29, 2012

Supreme Court deals governor a blow with health care ruling

Nathan Deal"s final vote as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives was against the federal government"s Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. Some people call it Obamacare.

Deal, a Republican, ran for governor later that year vowing to overturn against the law"s individual mandate, which requires adults to buy or have health insurance.

"As governor, he"ll work with [then-attorney general candidate] Sam Olens to fight for Georgians" constitutional rights by fighting Obamacare"s individual mandate in court," the Deal campaign wrote in a news release in September 2010, about six weeks before the election. Deal and Olens both won their races.

With Thursday"s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the health care law, PolitiFact Georgia thought it would be timely to see how the governor is doing on this campaign promise.

In 2011, Georgia joined about two dozen other states in filing a lawsuit against the health care law. The Supreme Court held a monumental three-day hearing on the law a few months ago.

Deal"s concerns about the law were many, particularly the individual mandate that conservatives view as an assault on individual liberty.

The court said in its historic 5-4 ruling that the individual mandate is constitutional.

"The Affordable Care Act"s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, who ruled with the majority. "Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said another concern is the law would expand Medicaid eligibility for more Georgians. Deal estimated Thursday at least 620,000 new recipients, or one of 16 Georgians.

"It"s not something we can afford to take on,” Robinson told PolitiFact Georgia a few weeks before the ruling.

The Medicaid provisions of the law would have required states to expand their Medicaid programs by 2014 to cover everyone under 65 with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty line. The law provides that the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of covering these individuals through 2016. In the following years, the federal payment level gradually decreases, to a minimum of 90 percent.

"As for the Medicaid expansion, that portion of the Affordable Care Act violates the Constitution by threatening existing Medicaid funding,” Roberts wrote. "Congress has no authority to order the States to regulate according to its instructions. Congress may offer the States grants and require the States to comply with accompanying conditions, but the States must have a genuine choice whether to accept the offer.”

Deal and Olens released a joint news release Thursday that urged Congress to overturn the law.

"I disagree with this decision. Congress explicitly said this was not a tax,” Olens said. "I call on Congress to act swiftly, repeal the law and replace it with real reform that respects the Constitution as written.”

Leaders of the Republican-led House of Representatives are planning to vote July 11 to repeal the law. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., however, showed no interest in voting to repeal the law in remarks he made on the Senate floor.

Deal said in the news release that he and the attorney general will continue to battle the Obama administration on this issue.

"While we recognize this is a huge setback for fiscal sanity and personal liberty, we are not giving up,” the governor said. "Georgians and the American people deserve high-quality, sustainable health care. Congress must now work steadfastly on repealing this law and replacing it with reforms that help taxpayers instead of hurt them.”

The president said Thursday"s ruling was a victory for Americans without health insurance, and he talked about looking for ways to improve the law. Removing the individual mandate doesn"t seem like an idea Obama is interested in.

For now, Deal"s effort to repeal the individual mandate has been stymied by the highest court in the land. Deal"s best hope may be if presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has said he would repeal the law, is elected over Obama in November. Deal alluded to as much in remarks to reporters Thursday.

With Thursday"s ruling, we rate Deal"s campaign commitment as a Promise Stalled.

Our Sources

U.S. Supreme Court ruling on health care law.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Health care law still a firestorm,” Sept. 23, 2010.

News release from Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens, June 28, 2012.

Telephone interview with Brian Robinson, spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal, May 24, 2012.

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