SD consumers relieved health insurance subsidies upheld

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota consumers who get subsidized health coverage under the Affordable Care Act said Thursday they’re relieved the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld tax credits that help cover the premiums by thousands of dollars on average per year. The state’s congressional leaders reiterated their opposition to the law and promised to keep trying to repeal it.

The high court maintained a key provision of the health insurance overhaul that affects thousands of South Dakota residents and others in more than 30 states who shop for coverage using exchanges run by the federal government. It means roughly 16,800 South Dakota consumers who bought coverage through the exchange during the 2015 enrollment period will keep getting an average of $229 in premium assistance a month.

Ruth Slaughter, who credits the subsidized coverage she obtained under the Affordable Care Act in 2014 with saving her life, said she learned about the ruling while still in bed in her camper at the Grand Canyon. She and her husband watched President Barack Obama speak on their television’s single channel in grainy black-and-white.

“I was just in tears, actually in tears,” said Slaughter, 64, grateful for her coverage after several years without insurance and because she believes the Affordable Care Act benefits the country.

Having insurance — which she said she would never be able to afford without a subsidy — prompted her to schedule a doctor’s appointment, where she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Slaughter, who lives mostly in Spearfish, said her plan has allowed her to get treatment.

“Otherwise, it would have been a choice of death or medical bankruptcy,” Slaughter said.

Opponents of the health overhaul had argued to the court that the subsidies could be given only in states that had established their own marketplaces, not in places that used the marketplaces run by the federal government.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, said the state doesn’t have to change its approach to the federal health law since the court upheld the subsidies. Kelsey Pritchard declined to comment on whether Daugaard is glad that South Dakota consumers who get subsidized coverage can keep doing so.

South Dakota’s all-Republican congressional delegation — U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and U.S. Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds — said in statements Thursday that the Affordable Care Act is a flawed disaster for consumers. They said they’ll keep trying to replace it with a “patient-centered” alternative.

Jeff Sandene, interim president of Sanford Health Plan — which offers coverage in South Dakota through the federal marketplace — said he’s not surprised the high court kept the health care law intact and said the news is good for consumers and patients.

“It’s kind of made my day, to really tell you the truth,” he said.

As of early June, Sanford had about 2,200 members covered through the exchange, with more than 1,800 getting subsidies.

Avera Health Plans Chief Administrative Officer Deb Muller said many consumers who had secured coverage with tax credits would have walked away without the subsidies because they couldn’t have afforded the plans on their own. Of the roughly 10,000 people who have bought Avera health plans through the exchange, about 8,500 receive subsidies, according to Avera.

Kelsey Collier-Wise of Vermillion said she and her husband pay about $261 a month for their plan after a subsidy of $336 per month through the exchange. Her 5-year-old daughter is now covered through Medicaid. Before she signed up for coverage through the exchange, Collier-Wise paid roughly $750 a month to cover the whole family.

Collier-Wise, 33, who works as the executive director of the United Way of Vermillion, said she felt “relieved, very relieved” because the ruling will save her money and trouble.

“We couldn’t have kept the plan that we have now at the price that it was,” she said. “I’m very happy.”

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