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Supreme Court Decision Could Affect Thousands Of Local People

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The U.S. Supreme Court will soon announce a decision that could cause over 50,000 local people to lose their health insurance. 

President Obama took some heat from Republicans last week for saying that the court probably shouldn't have even taken up the case known as King v. Burwell. It’s the case that will decide whether thousands of families in the Florida panhandle and millions nationwide will continue to be able to afford health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. At issue is one sentence in the law. Lawyers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative public policy organization that helped bring and fund the lawsuit; say only people in states that have set up their own health insurance exchange can get subsidies to buy insurance.   The government disagrees. Obama says, "Those who passed this legislation never intended for folks who were going through the federal exchange to not have their citizens have subsidies".

So, if the plaintiffs win what happens? More to the point, what happens here?  According to the latest numbers available from Enroll America, in our three county area: Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa, over 24,000 people and families have purchased health insurance through the federal exchange. That’s HealthCare.gov, the exchange set up by the Affordable Care Act. People use that because Florida did not set up a state exchange. Neither did Alabama, so add another 28,000 or so for Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia county and that’s close to 58,000 people in the area right now who have health insurance through the federal exchange. The percentage of people who got tax credits to make that insurance varies by state and county, so we’ll round it off the 90 percent. That brings us to about 52,000 local families who rely on tax credits from the federal government to buy their health insurance. That’s a long winded way of getting us to the point: the U.S. Supreme Court could take those tax credits away any day now and many, if not all of those families will no longer be able to afford coverage.

Todd Torgersen is the President of Combined Insurance Services in Pensacola, a company that helps employers provide benefits for their employees. He says that if  that happens then the only people who would keep their coverage would be the ones who knew they were going to need it because of high health care bills. Torgersen says in the insurance business that is called Adverse Selection, and would result in much higher costs for the people who keep their coverage. How much higher? Ron Pollack heads the advocacy group Families USA. They released numbers today that say the average Floridian would pay $294  more a month, or $3,528 per year.

And it’s not just customers who would suffer. Todd Torgersen says the loss of subsidies could cause a disruption in the health insurance industry itself. "To their credit, the health insurance companies have worked to assimilate this model and built infrastructure around it. They've built actuarial assumptions that the mandate for individual coverage would remain and they've also assumed that people would be able to afford it through subsidies. So when you take that out of the equation it really has the potential to disrupt their entire business model".

That’s not to say that there aren’t a whole lot of people hoping the court rules for the plaintiffs and the Affordable Care Act collapses. These are the people who, for the most part, call the Affordable Care Act "Obamacare". Recently, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke about the case on the floor of the senate. He said regardless of how the Supreme Court rules "I continue to look forward to working with my Republican colleagues, because while Obamacare is a law that's all about higher costs and broken promises, Republicans think health care should be about helping middle-class Americans".

But there were no specifics in that speech. In fact, no one on either side of the debate has introduced a plan to keep the thousands of people who may lose their health insurance covered. Sometime in the next two weeks, we’ll find out whether those contingency plans will be needed.