Impact of Health Law Ruling Will Vary

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4min 22sec

The U-S Supreme Court is expected to rule this month, possibly as soon as Monday, on the federal health care law. What that means for Colorado depends on who you talk to. Colorado Public Radio Health Reporter Eric Whitney has been looking into who has the most to gain and to lose.

This is a transcript of his story.

Reporter: Over at the Colorado Health Institute, Jeff Bontrager analyzes all kinds of statistics about Coloradans and health care. The non-partisan, non-profit Institute often splits the state in two groups: Those who have health insurance, about 84% of the state, and the uninsured, about 16%. Jeff Bontrager:

Bontrager: Those who would have the most to gain from the supreme court decision would be those who are currently uninsured, who may be disenfranchised from the health care system because they’re uninsured.

Reporter: That describesTerri Kirkham, an unemployed teacher from Broomfield.

Kirkham: I’m a single mom with a child with autism, and if I have significant medical expenses, I could lose my house and my son would not have a home.

Reporter: Kirkham can’t afford health insurance. So she only goes to the doctor when she absolutely has to. Kirkham says the health care law should change that for her.

Kirkham: I assume because I have such little income, that that will qualify me for a reduced rate or help of some kind.

Reporter: The health care law does promise subsidies to help low income people buy health insurance, starting in 2014. That means a single mom with one kid making less than $60,000 a year could get help.

But what about people who already have health insurance? The Colorado Health Institute’s Jeff Bontrager:

Bontrager: The vast majority of them would not be affected by the health reform law.

Reporter: He says that’s because most Coloradans get their health coverage from larger employers, and he doesn’t expect them to suddenly stop offering benefits if the law is upheld. But, many people who are employed and insured are already benefitting from one provision of the law that may be hard to give up. People like Sebastian and Kelli Hernandez, white collar parents of a two-year-old in Denver.

Sebastian: Kelli has cancer. So, prior to this law coming into effect, one of the key provisions was you cannot be denied health care coverage if you have a preexisting condition. So right now, for us, as long as one of us stays employed in a place that provides health care coverage, that won’t be an issue.

Reporter: That protection has broad appeal, even across party lines. Kelli Hernandez identifies as a Republican, But agreeing that insurers shouldn’t be able to deny sick people doesn’t mean she’s ready to embrace the whole health care law, especially the mandate every American is supposed to have or buy health insurance starting in 2014.

Kelli: The mandate is hard for me to get my hands around, from a less government perspective. But for the other parts of it, yes it does matter. Specifically, I, from a personal perspective, certainly hope to always be insurable in my life (laughs).

Reporter: It’s worth noting the provision Hernandez loves - coverage for preexisting conditions - is something the insurance industry says it can only afford to do if everyone has to buy insurance. Otherwise they fear they’d be overwhelmed by the number of costly medical cases on their rosters.

Kelli and Sebastian say health care has a lot to do with how they’ll vote in 2012. Kelli is undecided, Sebastian says he’ll proudly vote Obama.

One more number: 150,000. That’s about how many workers its estimated will get new health benefits through their jobs in Colorado if the Supreme Court upholds the law. As an employer, Jeff Garcia says he doesn’t know what that means for his janitorial company and its 25 employees. He can’t afford to offer health coverage, is confused, and is hoping the justices say no to the law.

Garcia: I’m thinking no at this stage because I’m not sure how it’s going to affect small businesses. They haven’t done a good job of explaining it to us, so I’m not sure what I have to do, how to prepare, how complex it’s going to be.

Reporter: There are few easy answers for what will happen if the Supreme Court upholds or strikes down the health care law. If upheld, it will still be a complex law to implement, and there are sure to be unintended consequences. If struck down the nation would presumably face another political fight over competing health reform proposals.

[Photo: Hernandez family]