The Affordable Care Act Upheld: Addressing America's Health Care Crisis

The Supreme Court decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius means that the Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land. As Chief Justice Roberts said in the majority opinion, Congress has the power to enact the individual mandate and the Medicaid expansion, the two provisions challenged in the case.

People with insurance and people without insurance should be relieved that the process of reform can now move forward and make health care more secure. All of them have spent sleepless hours worried about the cost, lack of control, lack of choice, and absence of peace of mind associated with our current system. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has tools to address all of these issues, although much still depends on decisions made at the state and local level, where officials must now continue implementing this important work.

The court's decision means that the benefits of the Affordable Care Act that are already in place will not have to be reversed.

• Health insurers will have to make their policies easier for customers to comprehend.

• Insurance companies will have to spend a higher portion of your premiums actually providing health care.

Young adults up to age 26 can now remain on their parents' insurance policies.

• More than 60,000 "uninsurable" people have health insurance through the ACA's Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program.

No child can be denied coverage by an insurance company due to a pre-existing health condition. Adults will win that protection in 2014.

• Every Medicare beneficiary who hits the prescription drug "donut hole" receives a 50 percent discount on their brand name and generic prescription drugs. As of March, Illinois Medicare beneficiaries who had triggered into this benefit were getting about $636 a month in savings.

• States receive significant federal grants to help them hold insurance companies accountable for unreasonable rate increases.

Preventive services are free under all types of public or private health insurance. Thus, last year 18.9 million Medicare recipients received free annual checkups and preventative services.

Women no longer need a referral from a primary care physician before seeing a gynecologist.

Medicare premiums are lower than they would have been without the law.

Looking down the road a bit, the court's decision means that the full benefits of the law will be implemented on schedule:

• In 2014, 30 million Americans will gain coverage and no longer be uninsured.

• In consumer-friendly marketplaces, insurers will have to disclose all of their information in uniform and comprehensible language, so consumers can compare and make choices.

No one will be denied coverage or charged a discriminatory rate due to a pre-existing condition.

• Starting in 2014, all health plans will have to include maternity care.

Seniors will have even more help paying for their prescriptions, eventually closing the Medicare doughnut hole.

Starting in 2014, the Affordable Care Act expands Medicaid to cover all 16 million Americans with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level who are not currently eligible for Medicaid. The Act provides 100 percent federal funding to cover the costs of this expansion for the first years, and then settles in at 90 percent funding after five years. The Supreme Court's decision upholds Congress's power to enact this expansion, and we encourage all the states to take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

The decision, however, also says that the federal government may not take away all of a state's existing Medicaid funding if it decides not to participate in the expansion. Medicaid law has always provided that, if states disobey the conditions Congress has imposed on the receipt of Medicaid funding, the federal government has several different remedies, one of which is to withdraw all federal funds. That remedy has never actually been used by the federal government, even though there have been many disputes involving state noncompliance with Medicaid conditions. So the threat that the federal government might deploy that remedy if a state failed to carry out the ACA's Medicaid expansion was highly theoretical.

In the decision, however, the court ruled that a state's refusal to adopt the ACA's Medicaid expansion cannot trigger the removal from a state of all of its existing Medicaid funding. The ruling is unclear about exactly what the states' options are and what other remedies the federal government may have in those circumstances. As we study the decision further, we will address these Medicaid issues more in depth in future blogs. Of course, we urge all states to take advantage of the federally funded Medicaid expansion to bring coverage to their lowest income uninsured.

Tonight, people all over the country, men and women, of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, and political beliefs, can breathe a bit easier knowing that the reforms launched in March 2010 will continue and that America is moving toward quality, affordable, comprehensive health care for all.