health care reform
8:21 am
Thu June 28, 2012

Supreme Court upholds health care law; Washington leaders look smart; state programs under way

Washington state is on a fast-track to providing discounted insurance for thousands of uninsured people by January 2014.

The Supreme Court has upheld the individual insurance requirement at the heart of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

The court on Thursday handed Obama a campaign-season victory in rejecting arguments that Congress went too far in requiring most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

The court found problems with the law's expansion of Medicaid. But even there, it said the expansion could proceed as long as the federal government does not threaten to withhold the entire Medicaid allotment to states if they don't take part in the extension.

The court's four liberal justices, Stephen Bryer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined Roberts in the outcome.

“We are in a very good position, because we have already received the federal funds to not only build our health-care exchange, or marketplace, but to operate it for the first year,” says State Sen. Karen Keiser (D), Kent, who chairs a key senate health committee.

The exchange set up in Washington state is a new way of selling health insurance, making it easier to comparison shop, like buying an airline ticket at an online site such as Expedia or Travelocity.

The secret ingredients are federal subsidies. If you’re low-income, or even middle-income in some cases, you’ll get federal help to buy health insurance through the exchange.

The state is also gearing up to add more than 300,000 low-income people to the subsidized Medicaid program, also starting in 2014.

And, Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler says his office is busy figuring out the details of how insurance will be sold and regulated once the changes go into effect.

“We have to tell the [insurance] carriers how to participate in the market, so one doesn’t end up with all the healthy people, or with all the sick people,” says Kreidler.

Hospital stocks jump after health care ruling

Stocks of hospital companies are moving sharply higher after initial reports said the Supreme Court upheld the individual insurance requirement in President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

HCA Holdings stock is up 10 percent. Community Health Systems is also up 10 percent.

Stocks of drug companies and medical device makers are slightly lower for the day as analysts sort through the Supreme Court's ruling. Stocks of the biggest insurance companies are also lower.

Health care ruling a political victory for Obama

The Supreme Court's decision to uphold President Barack Obama's sweeping health care law is a crucial election-year victory for the Democratic incumbent.

It also marks a pivotal point in the presidential race.

For Obama, the decision vindicates his most significant legislative accomplishment.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney opposes the health care overhaul and is expected to double-down on his campaign pledge to repeal the law if he is elected.

The high court announced Thursday that it was upholding the individual insurance requirement at the heart of the health care overhaul.

Press release from Washington State insurance commissioner

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler expressed great relief with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act and said Washington state is now well ahead of most states in reforming its health care system.

Many reforms are currently in place, but key benefits and programs take effect in 2014, including Washington’s new Health Exchange, federal subsidies to help 477,000 people afford health insurance, an expansion of Medicaid for 328,000 poor childless adults and the ban on insurance companies from denying people coverage if they’re sick.

“I’m very pleased the Supreme Court chose to uphold the Affordable Care Act,” said Kreidler. “We’ve been busy for two years now implementing the reforms and have made great progress, but there’s a lot left to do before 2014. With the court decision out of the way, we can continue our focus on where it should be – bringing relief to families struggling to find quality, affordable health insurance.”

The millions of Washington state consumers benefitting from the Affordable Care Act’s early reforms include:

  • More than 2.4 million people who no longer face lifetime caps on their health benefits.
  • More than 52,000 young adults up to age 26 who have stayed on their parents’ health plans.
  • More than 1.2 million people who now have coverage for preventive care with no co-pays or deductibles.
  • More than 60,000 people in Medicare who have saved hundreds on their prescription drugs.

Washington state also leveraged millions in federal funds available under the Affordable Care Act to create:

“The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but it moves us in the right direction and is the only meaningful reform that’s passed in decades,” said Kreidler. “The debate was clearly contentious, and I’m grateful to have it behind us. But, now it’s time to focus on the work ahead – more than a million uninsured people in our state are counting on us.”