Budget News and Notes: Health Care Reform Edition

With the highly anticipated Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—President Obama’s signature health care reform law—due this week, it is helpful to reconsider what Louisianans stand to gain from reform.

The potential benefits are immense.

Once it is fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act will dramatically reduce the number of uninsured Louisianans, help make coverage more affordable, and strengthen protections for consumers.

Nearly one in four non-elderly adults in Louisiana is uninsured, one of the highest rates in the country. Beginning in 2014, the reform law could cut that number by more than 60 percent through expansions in Medicaid eligibility and by setting up a new marketplace called a “health insurance exchange” where some families and small businesses will shop for private insurance and receive federal tax credits to help make it affordable. Hundreds of thousands of Louisianans will gain access to health insurance for the first time, and families and businesses will see the cost of their premiums go down. This is especially important for the “working poor,” people who currently have jobs that offer either unaffordable insurance or none at all.

Those who already have private health insurance will have better coverage because of reform. Already, more than 1.4 million insured Louisianans are no longer subject to a lifetime coverage limit, meaning that they don’t have to fear losing their coverage when they need it the most. Additionally, health plans have begun to offer many preventive services with no cost-sharing—everything from blood pressure tests to cancer screenings— benefiting an estimated 700,000 Louisianans.

Finally, reform is strengthening access to health insurance. One of the law’s most popular provisions allows uninsured young adults to stay on their parents’ plan up to age 26, and has already helped an estimated 45,000 or more young Louisianans remain insured in today’s tough job market. Insurance companies are now barred from denying coverage to children due to a pre-existing condition. And starting in 2014, no one will be denied because they are sick. Without reform, there would be little hope for those who cannot find affordable coverage today due to a pre-existing condition.

Reform is a good deal for the state budget as well. For the first three years, the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion, with the state chipping in after that. Eventually, Louisiana will pay only 10 percent of the cost of the expanded Medicaid population.

Implementing the Affordable Care Act is not without its difficulties, but there is no doubt that reform is the right prescription for Louisiana.

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