Ronale Tucker Rhodes, MS
On Monday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius kicked off National Consumer Protection Week by reminding Americans about their health insurance rights under the Affordable Care Act. The question is: Will these rights remain? Or, will some or all of them be taken away just as many of the benefits of this Act begin to take effect?
No doubt, many patients - especially those with a chronic illness - are eagerly awaiting the fate of this Act on two fronts. The first will be the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court about whether the federal government has overstepped its powers to force people to buy health insurance. The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments this month, and is expected to issue its ruling in June. If the court does in fact rule that mandatory health insurance is unconstitutional, will the rest of the Act remain in effect? It is believed by many legal experts that the vast changes put into effect to date such as tougher oversight of health insurers, the expansion of coverage to young adults and more protections for workers with pre-existing conditions will persist no matter what the court's ruling.
The second will be the 2012 presidential campaign. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides in favor of the Act's constitutionality and Mitt Romney beats President Obama in the 2012 presidential race, will Romney veto the Act? While Romney's campaign speeches have been designed to appeal to the conservative voters, let's not forget that he enacted the Massachusetts healthcare law that has striking similarities to the Affordable Care Act. And, then, there's public sentiment. A Gallop poll taken at the end of 2011 found that most Americans believe that it's the "federal government's responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare." That poll also found that while the majority of Americans oppose the Act, they support its provisions - the individual requirement and a private system of insurance (state-based exchanges that will offer private coverage).
Whether one is in favor of the Affordable Care Act or not, it's difficult to deny that many of its provisions have proved and will prove to be good for consumers. As Sebelius reminds us:
- Children can no longer be excluded from coverage because of a pre-existing health problem.
- Most young adults can stay on their parents' insurance policies until age 26.
- Adults with pre-existing conditions can seek coverage from the new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.
- In 2014, new Affordable Insurance Exchanges will provide all Americans with access to affordable, high-quality coverage.
Americans spend more on healthcare coverage than those in any other country on just about every medical procedure and doctor visit, according to a new report from the International Federation of Health Plans. Despite decades of efforts by Democrats for universal access to health insurance, one major fact sets this Act apart from all others that have been proposed: Employers, business groups and insurance companies all admitted to the need to deal with the relentless rise in healthcare costs, and they came to the negotiating table.
Will justice prevail? What do you predict?