Snap Analysis: The long arm of the U.S. healthcare ruling

WASHINGTON Thu Jun 28, 2012 11:02am EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court ruling to uphold the core of President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare law on Thursday has wide-ranging political and economic implications.

Here is a snap analysis of what it means for Americans, healthcare providers, insurers, the law and the presidential campaign.

How does the ruling affect the average American?

* Working families with annual household incomes up to nearly $90,000 will be able to purchase private insurance through new state insurance markets at prices subsidized according to income level, beginning in 2014. But people with household incomes of around $29,000, who qualify for coverage under the Medicaid government health insurance program for the poor, may have to wait for their respective state governments to decide whether they will join the program's huge expansion. Preventive healthcare measures including mammograms and other cancer screenings will be available without deductibles or co-pays. Adult children up to age 26 can remain on their parents' health insurance plans. Senior citizens can expect to continue receiving discounts on prescription drugs aimed at closing the Medicare coverage gap known as the "doughnut hole." Health insurers will continue to pay rebates on premiums not sufficiently targeted at healthcare services. Beginning in 2014, insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage to adults with pre-existing medical conditions and would be required to stop or curb discriminatory pricing based on gender, age and health status.

What about healthcare providers?

* The ruling removes one cloud of uncertainty over the future of healthcare reform and would help the administration's efforts to implement it fully by January 1, 2014, when the law is scheduled to go into effect. Under the decision, physicians and hospitals continue to move away from the traditional fee-for-service healthcare business model and toward more efficient systems that coordinate care. For healthcare providers, the affirmation represents millions of potential new patients, either through private plans or the government's Medicaid program for the poor. Some, however, would be under added pressure to enact more savings, which could cut into revenues. The administration still faces some fairly tall hurdles, such as establishing regulated health insurance markets in all 50 states so consumers can purchase subsidized coverage. Up until now, over a dozen states have done little or nothing to create such exchanges, partly because of the uncertainty over the fate of the law. Down the road, if Republicans succeed in taking control of the White House and the Senate in November (they already control the House of Representatives), they would likely try to repeal the law in 2013.

Where does the ruling leave health insurers?

* The health insurance industry can expect premium revenue from millions of new, healthy customers through state exchanges. But the industry will also have to operate with new consumer protections that require coverage access for people with pre-existing medical conditions and other health status issues, and mandate preventive care without customary charges.

How might the ruling influence the presidential campaign?

* This is a big victory for Obama, who has weathered years of criticism from conservatives about his reforms. The decision could energize the president and his supporters, while undercutting presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who introduced similar reforms as Massachusetts governor but opposes their use as national policy. But there could be a silver lining for Republicans: the opinion could light a fire under party candidates and constituents who want a president who would repeal the law in 2013.

*

(Reporting by David Morgan and Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Will Dunham)

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