Last week, U.S. Supreme Court justices heard arguments about the constitutionality of the federal health-care reform law. At the center of the debate is whether the government can force people to buy health insurance, a provision often referred to as the individual mandate. There are four likely scenarios that will be the outcome of the justices’ decisions, asserts Jennifer Haberkorn for Politico, all of which come with their own problems.
Scenario 1: The individual mandate is struck down, as well as insurance reforms: If these parts of the Affordable Care Act are scrapped, “Insurance companies will still be able to deny coverage based on customers’ costly pre-existing conditions and charge more to older and sicker — or female patients,” Haberkorn reports.
If that happens, the Obama administration and Democrats would likely blame Republicans for promoting a lawsuit that puts insurance companies in charge again. If reaction from the public is strong, Republicans may feel obligated to enact insurance reforms without an individual mandate. Ideas for doing this include “charging more if a person buys insurance at the last minute, tax incentives and a promise that if a person buys coverage, that person wouldn’t lose it if he or she were to get sick and need it,” Haberkorn reports.
Scenario 2: The mandate is struck down, but insurance reforms stay intact: Part of the reason why insurance companies agreed to stop denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions is they could offset the losses because the law would enlarge their insurance pool by 30 million people — the number of Americans who lack coverage.
If insurance companies are still required to stop denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions but the individual mandate is struck down “They could start a mini revolt over having to cover expensive patients without the mandate,” Haberkorn reports.
Scenario 3: The entire law, or the majority of it, is axed: That would mean unpopular parts of the law would be trashed, but so would popular ones, including the pre-existing conditions piece as well as a provision that allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until the age of 26.
In 2010, 26 provisions took effect and another 17 did last year. Nine new provisions are taking place this year. “Lawmakers designed the phase-in, in part, with the thought that the public would become more supportive of the law once certain provisions began to take hold,” report Michael Doyle and David Lightman for McClatchy Newspapers.
Scrapping the law entirely could cause the most political fallout. “Republicans would try to move quickly to enact a small-scale health reform legislation aimed at restoring some of the popular pieces of the health law,” Haberkorn reports. “But Democrats won’t want to support something far less comprehensive than the Affordable Care Act, not with some 50 million Americans uninsured.”
Scenario 4: The law stands: Though this is the hope of the Obama administration, “The mandate is considered relatively weak: The penalty for not obeying it starts at $95 in 2014 — that’s nothing compared with the cost of insurance premiums,” Haberkorn reports. The amount increases to $695 by 2016.
As for what the justices will do, “at least some of the court’s conservatives seem prepared to kill the whole bill,” report Doyle and Lightman. “My approach would be, if you take the heart out of the statue, the statute is gone,” Justice Antonin Scalia said.
Justice Elena Kagan countered, “Half a loaf is better than no loaf,” while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested, “It’s a question between a wrecking operation and a salvage job.”
Some justices said the whole bill should be sacked, “on the theory that members of Congress would not have voted for it without the mandate,” Adam Liptak reports for The New York Times. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor said killing the whole law “would be too broad an assertion of judicial power,” Liptak notes. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the likely swing vote, said “We would be exercising the judicial power, if one provision was stricken and the others remained, to impose a risk on insurance companies that Congress had never intended.”
The justices probably decided the future of the law Friday morning, reports Mark Sherman for The Associated Press. Typically, an initial vote is “followed soon after by the assignment of a single justice to write a majority opinion, or in a case this complex, perhaps two or more justices to tackle different issues. That’s where the hard work begins, with the clock ticking toward the end of the court’s work in early summer,” Sherman writes.
In Kentucky, health advocates and officials are watching closely to see what happens. “I think the entire health-care sector and insurance sector are watching this closely because it has significant implications on both industries,” said Stephen Williams, chief executive officer of Norton Healthcare. “This is very far-reaching.”
In Kentucky, the law extends coverage for 35,000 young adults, reports Laura Ungar for The Courier-Journal. (Read more)