Supreme Court Begins Review of Affordable Care Act

Sweeping federal law is designed to extend coverage to the uninsured; opponents call it unconstitutional

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Some popular provisions -- including allowing children to stay on their parents' health plans until age 26 -- are already in place.

Other provisions meant to help older Americans began in 2011, with changes to continue through 2020.

Medicaid expansion a vital component of the law

States must comply with the Medicaid expansion no later than 2014. But some worry that a big influx of new enrollees could strain medical specialties such as obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics and family practice.

Dr. Peter Carmel, president of the American Medical Association, called the expansion "an important step in the right direction," even though many "physicians are currently unable to accept Medicaid patients due to low reimbursement rates."

Added Dr. Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians: "For the time being, [the new law] seems like the best option to get everyone covered with health insurance. Otherwise, people are carved out from good primary-care services, good preventive care and wellness services, and care of their chronic illnesses until sometimes it's too late."

The Supreme Court ruling is expected in June. The court could go one of several ways:

  • It could rule the individual mandate is unconstitutional and the entire law invalid.
  • It could rule the mandate is constitutional and the entire law can stand.
  • It could reach a middle ground: that the individual mandate is unconstitutional but the rest of the law can stand.
  • It could decline to rule on the case and the health reforms would proceed.

Whatever the court decides, it will provide plenty of fodder for the 2012 elections. And even if the Affordable Care Act survives the legal challenge, Landers said, "with upcoming elections -- a new Congress -- it doesn't mean that everything is set for all time."

More information

The American Bar Association website links to briefs filed with the U.S. Supreme Court case on the Affordable Care Act.

For legal experts' best guess on how the Supreme Court will rule on the Affordable Care Act, click here.

To learn more about the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, click here.

To learn more about the importance of the individual mandate to the Affordable Care Act, click here.

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