Supreme Court justices are hearing arguments this week in a case about the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) that could gut health reform and leave an estimated 10 million Americans without health insurance.
Celeste Bondurant-Bell, director of community development for Little River Medical Center, is concerned about that.
But she knows decisions already made by South Carolina officials have already hurt many in this area, and that further harm could be headed this way.
If the Supreme Court declares that subsidies, which have made health insurance affordable for millions of Americans in the individual market for the first time, should not apply in states that did not set up their own insurance exchanges, it’s a potentially double hit for places like Little River Medical Center.
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“In 2014, my outreach team signed up thousands of people in our area who could not have purchased health insurance without the assistance of the subsidies,” Bondurant-Bell said. “The decision to discontinue subsidies would wreak havoc for residents of South Carolina who are now getting medical care that they would not have been able to get prior to the ACA.”
And if a provision of the ACA, which has provided billions of dollars for community health centers throughout the country — more than $6 million to Little River — isn’t renewed this fall, that could mean more than 7,000 patients “would lose access to care” and Little River could lose about 41 percent of its workforce, or roughly 98 jobs.
That’s just a snapshot of what’s at stake at the Supreme Court this week, which involves debate over a few words out of an almost 1,000-page law.
Despite the rhetoric and misinformation, the ACA has cut the uninsured rate to an all-time low, according to the latest data from Gallup.
It has helped reduce the national deficit, which has fallen by about two-thirds since 2009, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office.
Almost 10 million seniors have received help with prescription drug costs, while more than 3 million young people were initially able to remain on their parent’s plan through the age of 26, according to figures from the Department of Health and Human Services and other measures.
The readmission rates in hospitals have been cut, meaning savings to Medicare and healthier patients, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and has helped in the slowing of the health care inflation rate to a 50-year-low and extended the life of Medicare by 13 years.
Thousands of lives have been saved, and the health of babies born to women in poverty has improved.
Health and Human Services has also reported that about a third of Americans — more than 100 million — no longer are subject to a lifetime cap on medical benefits, and tens of millions are no longer subject to a pre-existing condition ban.
For South Carolina, it would have cost us about $1.2 billion over the next decade to expand Medicaid under the ACA (the feds would pay for no less than 90 percent of the costs) to provide insurance to a few hundred thousand South Carolinians while shoring up state hospitals and creating an estimated 44,000 jobs because of the $16 billion infusion the state would experience.
Instead, Haley and other high-profile leaders blocked it.
The ACA is not flawless. There are still major questions about just what kinds of insurance plans are adequate. Some of the ACA-approved plans come with deductibles and everyday out of pocket expenses that strain the wallets of those on the economic knife’s edge.
And there have been mistakes, such as the awful launch of the federal health care website and erroneous tax information about 800,000 Americans received, among other things.
No piece of legislation in American history has been perfect. It’s just that during a saner political time, once it became law, Congress and the president joined to improve it.
In the case of the ACA, opponents have done everything possible to derail it despite what’s at stake for real people, including along the Grand Strand.
“It is important our community knows the gap in health services for our most vulnerable residents that would be created by this loss in funds,” Bondurant-Bell said. “The loss in funding would result in the closure of sites and the discontinuation of many services.”