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Health Care Ruling Puts Reform on Front Burner

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Chief Justice Roberts – praised and denounced

Chris Levister

When Wendell and Thomasena Andes of Redlands sprang from their bed at 6:45 a.m. Thursday, June 28 to hear the most anticipated Supreme Court ruling in years, they never suspected conservative-leaning Supreme Court Justice John Roberts would make their day. “We were all but certain the court would throw ‘Obamacare’ out,” said Thomasena, an unemployed chemist who says she was rejected by her insurance company after she developed complications from a pre-existing rare blood disease known as Fanconi anemia (FA) “We were praying the Roberts’ court would put politics aside for the good of all Americans,” said Wendell.

In a landmark ruling that will impact the November election and the lives of every American, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the controversial health care law championed by President Barack Obama. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in the 5-4 ruling. The decision was a victory for Obama but also will serve as a rallying issue for Republicans calling for repeal of the Affordable Care Act passed by Democrats in 2010. “When we heard the words ‘upheld’ – we danced around the room hugging each other, thanking God, the President and Chief Justice Roberts,” said Thomasena. Obama called the ruling “a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law.”

“I'm as confident as ever that when we look back five years from now or 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, we will be better off because we had the courage to pass this law, and keep moving forward,” said Obama. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who previously pledged to issue waivers to states if the health care law was upheld, pledged last week that if elected, he would work to repeal the law.

“Obamacare' was bad policy yesterday. It is bad policy today. It will be bad policy tomorrow,” said Romney as congressional allies scheduled a symbolic repeal vote for July 11. At this urgent care clinic in Moreno Valley, reaction to the ruling ranged from arm waving victory to finger pointing outrage.

“It means we won’t have to beg for care,” said Caprice Adams as she kept an eye on her 8-year-old son Jamie who suffers from chronic asthma. “We can’t afford to buy health insurance,” said Caprice’s husband Wynford. “A routine doctor’s visit is too expensive,” said Caprice. “So we come here with our hand out.” Seated next to Wynford, Barry Fidler had harsh words for the ruling and its chief architect – Justice John Roberts.

“It’s a sucker punch. This law is gonna put a whole lot more people in the poor house,” he said. “Obama and Congress fed us a pack of lies now Roberts has caved in to the liberal rhetoric,” said Hicks, an unemployed building contractor. As the government writes the regulations and sets the policies that will bring the law to life, cheering and jeering Americans alike are asking, “what does it mean for our pocketbooks? The law requires nearly all U.S. citizens and legal residents to buy health insurance. Penalties would be phased in over three years starting in 2014, with steadily increasing amounts applied. For example, in 2014 it would be $95 or 0.5 percent of income, whichever is greater. By 2016, the penalty would be either $750 to $2,250 a year per family or 2 percent of household income, whichever is greater.

While the health care law will benefit all Americans, health experts say it will be especially helpful for African Americans who suffered the most under the nation’s ruptured health care system. Here are eight ways the health care law will help African Americans: 1. It will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions under all new plans. 2. It will prohibit insurance companies from dropping sick patients from their rolls. 3. It will give tax credits to small businesses for health insurance and allow small businesses to shop for plans that fit their needs. 4. It will prohibit insurance companies from placing annual and lifetime limits on coverage. 5. It will require insurance plans to cover screenings and vaccines without any deductibles or co-pays under any new insurance plans. 6. It will allow a child to remain on their parents’ insurance plan until the age of 26. 7. It will require insurance plans to cover prescription drugs for seniors or close the so-called donut hole, meaning that the elderly will no longer have to cover the cost for prescription drugs when their benefits run out. 8. It will expand funding for community health centers.

Amid the cheering in many quarters over the Supreme Court's decision, experts say a sobering fact remains: California's ailing healthcare system won't be easy to fix. Millions of Californians will still lack insurance even after a massive coverage expansion. Medical costs and premiums are expected to keep rising, at least in the short run. And many of those who do gain coverage could have a tough time finding a doctor to treat them.

The court ruling does provide enormous benefits to a state where 7 million residents are uninsured. Starting in 2014, California will receive as much as $15 billion a year to expand Medi-Cal coverage for the poor and to provide federal subsidies to people buying policies in a state-run exchange. About 4 million Californians are expected to gain coverage. California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said covering even a portion of the state's uninsured should sharply reduce the amount of uncompensated medical care that's driving up the price of health insurance.

On average, California families pay an extra $1,400 each in annual premiums to cover medical bills for the uninsured, according to the California Endowment.

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