As the nation awaits a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the federal health law, regional health leaders say much is at stake for the area’s health system and residents.
Thomas McCauliffe, a health policy analyst with the Missouri Foundation for Health, says a decision could affect the future insurance status of some 800,000 uninsured people in the state.
“What we’re talking about are hundreds of thousands of Missourians who don’t have insurance right now or don’t qualify for Medicaid having access starting in 2014,” says McAuliffe.
McAuliffe points to three parts of the law that, if upheld, would take effect in two years: an expansion of Medicaid eligibility in the state, subsidies to people who meet certain income guidelines to buy insurance and a ban on insurance companies from denying people coverage due to pre-existing health conditions.
Other issues at stake in the decision, expected Thursday, include whether or not a requirement that people buy health insurance or face fines is constitutional. 71 percent of Missouri voters opposed such a provision in a popular vote in 2010.
A ruling on that and other insurance regulations could have a major impact on the health industry. But Matt All, general counsel at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, says whatever happens, he’s looking forward to having more answers and clarity with the upcoming decision.
“We just want to know what the future is going to look like,” says All.
All says Blue Cross has been working “quite literally every day” implementing provisions of the law that have already taken effect. That’s included altering insurance policies to allow children up to the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ plans. The company has also been preparing for provisions of the law that have yet to take effect, such as the way it must explain health plans to consumers and what sorts of policies it might sell through a state-based market-place, called a health exchange, when it's up and running in 2014.
Dave Dillon, with the Missouri Hospital Association, also welcomes a ruling.
“It provides clarity in the path forward,” says Dillon. “We’ll know what rules of the game we’ll be operating in, and it allows us to invest in individuals and systems to deal with the payment and care side of it.”
Dillon adds that even if parts or all of the health law are struck down, certain changes that have already been set in motion under the law, like improving the way hospitals coordinate care with doctors once patients leave hospitals, will continue in some form no matter what.
This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes KCUR, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
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