Friday, June 29, 2012

Health-care law constitutional: Bring it on

While legal beagles and politicians parse yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the federal law that requires nearly all Americans to carry health insurance, individuals and small businesses should celebrate.

In a nutshell, the high court ruled 5-4 that the mandate is legal under the Constitution because it is a tax that the federal government may impose.

The landmark decision now gives the nation a chance to begin to address the enormous problem of unpredictable and skyrocketing health insurance costs, a problem that insurance companies were unable to remedy on their own.

The practical impacts of the ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, will be widespread. Unless, of course, voters decide in November to give control of the federal government to those who would leave citizens to the not-so-tender mercies of our broken health-care system by overturning the law.

The state of Idaho will have to set up an online health insurance exchange to allow consumers to compare and contrast the costs and benefits of policies offered by different companies. To date, the state has refused to do so, making it difficult for small companies and private individuals to find the most affordable plans with the best possible benefits.

Private insurance companies will be prohibited from denying insurance coverage to the sickest people, and the healthiest will not be able to skate on paying their fair share of insurance costs until life begins to catch up with them.

Everyone will have to help pay for health care over time or pay a fine. The law will remedy today's situation in which the uninsured too often leave hospitals, voluntary payers and government agencies with the bill when disaster strikes.

People with health insurance will be more likely to utilize cheaper preventive and nonemergency treatment from family physicians, physicians' assistants and nurses instead of turning to more expensive emergency rooms where care may not be denied.

Spreading out the costs of medical treatment over the entire population and not just voluntary payers will even out increases in the cost of insurance over time. That should make health insurance costs more predictable, manageable and affordable for small businesses, sole proprietors and individuals. It will put the brakes on skyrocketing costs that left more Americans uninsured each year.

The law also will level the competitive playing field for businesses. They will have to choose between providing health insurance for employees or paying them enough to provide it for themselves.

The law isn't perfect, but it's passed constitutional muster. It's a great first step toward easing the pain of health insurance costs.

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