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Supreme Court ruling allows more than 14,000 in North Dakota keep health insurance subsidies


BISMARCK, North Dakota — More than 14,000 low- and moderate-income North Dakota residents will retain health insurance premium subsidies provided through the Affordable Care Act under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday allowing the payments.

North Dakota is one of 34 states where the federal government is running the health insurance marketplaces under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Opponents argued that health care subsidies can only be given in states that have their own marketplaces.

"The Supreme Court's decision means were are where we were yesterday," said Neil Scharpe, who is in charge of the North Dakota's navigators who help inform people of their options under the new law. "The last thing people with the insurance wanted was to have the rug pulled out beneath them."

North Dakota Human Services Director Maggie Anderson said the state had made no firm plans if the high court had ruled the other way. With the court's 6-3 decision, "it's business as usual" in North Dakota, she said.

State data show 16,222 people signed up for health insurance in North Dakota using the federal insurance marketplace in 2015. Of those, 14,115 were eligible for premium subsidies.

Losing the subsidies would have significantly increased premiums. Federal data show the average monthly premium for an individual with subsidized insurance is $141, versus $369 a month without a subsidy.

Lydia DeJesus, a navigator from Dickinson, said she found mixed feelings from people concerning the Affordable Care Act, even among those who are getting significant subsidies.

"There are people who have services who never had services," she said. "But there are people who were forced to have insurance and really don't consider it affordable. Some people have told us they'd rather pay the fine as opposed to having health insurance."

Republican members of North Dakota's congressional delegation wasted no time Thursday issuing statements saying they will continue the fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite the Supreme Court ruling.

"I will continue to work with my colleagues to protect people from the effects of this bad law," GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer said in a statement.

"The law is increasing costs, reducing patient choice, and burdening our economy," Republican Senator John Hoeven said.

Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said in a statement that the law should be improved but not repealed.

"I have long said some parts of the health care reform law work, but we need to improve the pieces that should work better for families and small businesses across North Dakota," Heitkamp's statement said.

Donene Feist, a navigator from Edgeley, in the southeastern part of the state, said she's seen positive effects from the law.

"By and large the folks I've dealt with had some kind of health problems but could not afford health insurance," Feist said. "I've enrolled people who have cancer, heart problems, diabetes — you name it. One gal had been borrowing money from her family for cancer treatments before she enrolled. These are people who really need this."

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