Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By John Richardson firstname.lastname@example.org
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this week on the fate of the Affordable Care Act, the sweeping 2010 health care reform law also known informally as "Obamacare."
Ashley Drew, 25, of Scarborough poses with her parents, Joy and Tom Drew, just before undergoing a double lung transplant on June 8. Drew is insured on her mother’s plan thanks to provisions in the Affordable Care Act.
Greg Dugal, director, Maine Innkeepers Association
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Affordable Care Act by the end of this month. The justices will decide whether Congress went beyond its constitutional authority in passing it. They could throw out all of the complex law or just part of it, or they could decide to keep it intact.
Rarely have so many Mainers been waiting for the justices to make a decision.
"It's a big unknown hanging out there, and I think a little certainty would be welcome," said Doug Newman, who owns Newman Concrete Services in Richmond.
Newman is one of many business owners who hope the law gets struck down before costly mandates take effect in 2014.
But other Mainers, such as Joy Drew of Scarborough, hope the law survives because of the way it already is expanding access to health insurance.
"Everybody needs insurance," said Drew, who will be waiting for the court decision in Boston, where her 25-year-old daughter is recovering from a double lung transplant.
Because the law is so large and complex, the ruling could touch virtually everyone who has health insurance, as well as everyone who doesn't.
Maine insurance carriers, employers and health care consumers are waiting to see if the law survives. Gov. Paul LePage and state lawmakers are watching, too, because the ruling -- whatever it is -- will likely prompt legislative responses in Augusta and in Washington.
Insurance companies in Maine and around the country have pledged to maintain some health care benefits introduced by the law -- including coverage of adult children -- regardless of the Supreme Court's decision. Others say they will re-evaluate when the dust settles.
Maine is one of 26 states that sued to overturn a core provision in the law -- a requirement that all Americans buy health insurance beginning in 2014. Under the law, consumers who can't afford insurance could apply for new subsidies.
Critics say the so-called individual mandate is unconstitutional because the government can't force citizens to buy a product or service. Defenders say the mandate simply requires people to pay for the care they will inevitably need. They argue that medical care for the uninsured is now paid for through higher insurance premiums on those who are insured.
The Supreme Court could uphold the law, kill it or strike down part of it. Eliminating just the individual mandate could cause other parts of the complex law to unravel.
Doug Newman said he's confident that the law won't survive. While Newman doesn't like the individual mandate, he said a different requirement would hurt his business more.
Starting in 2014, employers with 50 or more workers would have to provide health insurance to their workers or pay a $2,000 penalty for each one to help cover the cost of private insurance. Newman has 55 employees and already provides health insurance for established workers. Under the law, he would have to provide higher-cost health plans and would have to cover even short-term employees, he said.
"If this gets struck down, I think you're going to hear a sigh of relief from business owners around the country," said Newman, whose wife, Kathleen Newman, is the legislative director for LePage.
Many in Maine's tourism industry also hope the law will be struck down, or at least changed. That's because employers would have to provide health insurance to seasonal employees who work at least 120 days a year.
Greg Dugal, director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, said some inns and hotels would have to make sure they hire fewer than 50 workers or they would have to shut down for a month or two to keep them from working 120 days.
"Most everybody is open five or six months to make a go of it," Dugal said. "People really are going to have to sacrifice part of their season so they don't have to provide health insurance (that they can't afford). ... They'll have to choose between May and October."
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