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Feds, Opponents Dueling Over Health Insurance Law Benefits

Ernie Shannon's picture

In the wake of news last week that the Affordable Care Act could cost more than $2 trillion through 2022 and facing a contentious Supreme Court hearing next week, the Department of Health and Human Services is aggressively highlighting the new health care law’s benefits for millions of Americans.

Today, department Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released data showing that more than five million seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare saved $3.2 billion on prescription drugs in the last two years. In 2012, Sebelius said Medicare beneficiaries will receive a 50 percent discount from manufacturers on covered brand name drugs and a 14 percent savings on generic drugs.

That’s good news for Medicare recipients, but for millions of other Americans there are now questions regarding just how much a government managed health care system will cost. The Congressional Budget Office released a report last week suggesting that 20 million citizens could lose their employer-sponsored health benefits while another 49 million Americans might have no other choice but government-sponsored health care. The loss of employer health benefits could happen when private health care plans become too expensive in the new health care environment of the Affordable Care Act. Even more disturbing, the budget office also predicted that the cost of the new health care law could more than double the $900 billion estimate over the next ten years.

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Countering those perceptions, Sebelius reiterated on Friday the “seamless path” to affordable health insurance coverage the new law provides many Americans. She said the Affordable Care Act makes Medicaid available to individuals between ages 19 and 64 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. That means a family of four with an income up to $30,656 and individuals earning up to $14,856 will be eligible for Medicaid beginning in 2014.

“Today, too many uninsured Americans turn to the emergency room for care and can’t pay their bills,” said Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Insuring more Americans will decrease the hidden tax states and consumers with insurance pay to cover the cost of caring for the uninsured.”

However, opponents of the law say that while the coverage of the uninsured may reduce the hidden tax levied on states and consumers, the additional expense to the Medicaid program to cover so many more people heretofore not eligible, will drive costs up significantly.

This duel between supporters and adversaries reaches a climax next week when lawyers stand before the nine Supreme Court justices to argue the law’s constitutionality. And even if the court decides not to rule on whether the law is within constitutional restraints, the justices may well issue opinions on the right of the government to mandate that every American purchase health care insurance. They may also consider whether Congress overstepped in expanding Medicaid and obligating states to accept it or risk losing federal Medicaid payments. If the Court agrees with states challenging the expanded Medicaid program, a key linchpin of the Affordable Care Act would be lost.