Health & Science

Houston Healthcare Community Braces For Supreme Court Decision

Thursday morning the Supreme Court is expected to announce its long-awaited decision on the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare." KUHF Health and Science reporter Carrie Feibel has more about what's at stake and what some in Houston's healthcare industry expect to happen afterwards.

The Supreme Court’s decision will pivot on one particular part of the law, the so-called individual mandate. It would require most Americans to get health insurance by 2014, either through a job or by buying an individual policy.

Sheryl Dacso is a health care attorney in the Houston office of Seyfarth Shaw.

“The individual mandate is one of the most controversial parts of the law.”

Dacso says if the Supreme Court strikes down the mandate, then other parts of the law might also be put in jeopardy.

But as Dasco points out, some of those parts are really popular, such as letting parents cover kids on their policy up to age 26. Or the part of the law that forbids denial of coverage because of a pre-existing health condition.

“If this law falls, although we’re not back to square one, it really would represent a significant setback for healthcare services, healthcare delivery.”

Most expect the Supreme Court to be fairly split on the decision, with Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the decisive swing vote.

But Dacso says Chief Justice John Roberts may be thinking about his historical legacy, and might side with the liberal justices to uphold the law.

“This case is going to be a landmark decision and whatever decision is made, his court which will carry his name as the Roberts Court, is going to be associated with the outcome of this case.”

Dr. Spencer Berthelsen is chairman of the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, which has 20 locations throughout Houston.

He says it’s too bad the law became so politicized, because it does contain a lot of helpful reforms that the country desperately needs.

“I think it’s clear that the law has benefits, and if the law doesn’t stand it will need to be replaced. Because we can’t continue in the same way that we have been over the last several decades. The United States spends twice as much as the average industrialized country on healthcare, but we don’t get twice the benefit.”

Berthelsen says change is coming to health care no matter what. Hospitals are merging, doctors are banding together into bigger groups, and everyone is trying to control costs.

But Berthelsen says if this law is declared unconstitutional, it will take a lot longer to reform the system and help the uninsured. A replacement plan could take another decade.

“And we’ll just be further down the road of increasing cost and loss of ability to correct the situation during that period of time.”

The decision is expected shortly after 9 a.m.

From the KUFH Health and Science Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.

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