By Trevor Allison
The idea of government involvement in health care has a long history of riling politicians. “Obamacare,” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, has been a hot topic in politics since the previous presidential election, and now, with the 2012 election approaching, things are heating up.
Jay Thompson, a lawyer with Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons, LLP in Austin gave a lecture to students Tuesday evening in Cashion Academic Center in an effort to make sense of the 2,000-page document that comprises the act and its impact on our society.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is meant to bring insurance reform, create minimum benefit standards for policy holders, expand Medicaid and reform Medicare, Thompson said.
The act also includes an individual mandate for every American that files a tax return to purchase health insurance, effective Jan. 1, 2014.
“Here’s what the promise was: we’re going to provide health insurance for everyone. It doesn’t do that,” Thompson said.
Another aim of the bill was to lower the overall cost of health care, he said, but the law also fails to meet that goal.
“It does nothing for the cost of health care or health insurance,” Thompson said. “Somebody pays. There is no free lunch.”
According to the Texas Department of Insurance, more than 50 percent of Texans will have their insurance paid by the federal or state government under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
When the bill was signed into law, individual states were to review and approve any changes in rates on behalf of insurance companies, but Thompson said this is largely impossible because most states do not have laws that allow them to regulate insurance rates.
The discrepancy between the laws, or problems posed by the lack of them, is part of the reason the act has garnered the attention of the Supreme Court.
The law also states an insurance company may not rescind a policy for any reason except for fraud.
Of the 30 million people that receive insurance as a result of the act, Thompson said 24 million to 25 million of them will receive Medicaid.
That is, they will not be insured by a private insurance company but instead by an expanding government program.
Under the law, from 2014-2016, the federal government will pay for 100 percent of the increase in Medicaid.
However, that amount will begin to diminish starting in 2017, and the states will begin pay what is no longer covered.
Thompson said he estimates that will amount to an extra $30 billion over the next 10 years, or $3 billion per year, the state of Texas would have to pay the new Medicaid recipients.
Per year, that amounts to 3.7 percent of the state’s annual budget.
Lucas senior Austin Miller said he didn’t know much about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act before hearing Thompson’s lecture.
“I gained valuable insight into Obamacare and its implications for everyone, especially in Texas and from an economic standpoint,” Miller said.
Thompson said the act will be examined by the Supreme Court later this year to determine its constitutionality.
The Supreme Court will closely examine the individual mandate to see if it is in agreement with the Commerce Clause in Article 1 of the Constitution; the court’s decision on this one point of law could be devastating for the entire act, Thompson said.
“Even Democrats have admitted if the individual mandate goes, the whole law is going to go,” Thompson said.
However, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said he believes the act will withstand the Court’s scrutiny. “We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree,” Pfeiffer said.