WHEELING - The strength and fitness of a new health care reform law in America is on the examining table this month as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews its overall constitutionality.
On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. The measure mandates comprehensive health insurance reforms that roll out through the end of 2014.
The high court is expected to rule on its constitutionality later this month. At issue is one provision of the new law requiring all Americans to obtain health insurance - or face a penalty. The provision goes into effect at the start of 2014.
The court's ruling should result in one of three scenarios, according to Jim Forbes, spokesman for Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.
First, the court could rule the entire bill unconstitutional. Second, the court could deem only the "insurance mandate" clause illegal, and keep the rest as it is. Lastly, justices could rule the entire measure is constitutional.
The law in its current form would decrease the federal deficit by $210 billion by 2021, according to figures compiled by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The new system is expected to cost $604 billion over the next decade, while also generating $813 billion in additional revenues attributed to new taxes and fees, according to the CBO.
And health care reform already is providing very real benefits to West Virginians, according to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
"In the last year alone, seniors have saved about $23 million on their prescription drug costs and 4,200 small businesses got a 75 percent discount on their premiums last December as a direct result of health reform," he said. "Consumers are better protected, seniors have more support and there are new tools to put the brakes on runaway health spending. Yes, controlling our spending is important, but we cannot shift that burden onto seniors and low-income West Virginians."
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, believes medical malpractice reform should be part of any health care system overhaul.
"Such common-sense reform would lessen the wasteful practice of defensive medicine, save the federal government billions of dollars and reduce health care costs passed on to employers," he noted.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., believes the health care bill "is in need of repair." West Virginia's former governor is concerned about the expansion of Medicare programs under the bill and what this will cost states.
"I have said many times that while there are parts of the bill that are worth fighting for, there are other provisions that should be eliminated - namely the individual mandate that threatens our individual liberties and the Medicaid expansion that puts so much financial pressure on states," he added.
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, likes provisions in the law allowing college-age people to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26, and prohibiting insurance companies from denying someone coverage based on pre-existing conditions. But the health care law needs to be replaced "with common sense, patient-centered solutions" he added. Johnson called for increasing competition in the insurance industry, making insurance more portable from state to state and job to job, and creating tax incentives for health savings accounts.
The law also ensures money Americans pay for health insurance will be used for their medical care rather than for executive bonuses and ad campaigns, noted the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
"The law requires that insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of the premiums they collect from consumers on medical care, or give consumers a rebate," said Allison Preiss, spokesman for Brown. "And after American families have faced unchecked hikes in their health insurance costs for years, the law subjects insurance companies to new scrutiny if they raise prices by more than 10 percent."
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she eagerly awaits the Supreme Court's decision.
"Seemingly every day we learn more about the law's negative impact on our nation's health care delivery system," she said. "I agree that we need to reform our health care system, but I would like to do it in a way that allows patients to make the decisions, not Washington bureaucrats."