N.Y. Health Plans Continue as U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Obama Law

June 29, 2012

State health officials are moving forward with plans to establish an insurance exchange intended to extend coverage to some 2.7 million New Yorkers without it.

In April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to establish the statewide exchange, a marketplace where individuals and small businesses could tap into as much as $2.6 billion in federal tax credits and subsidies under President Obama’s national health care overhaul.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the overhaul’s main provisions Thursday.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his office stands ready to enforce the law to ensure New Yorkers benefit from its protections, calling the court’s decision a “historic victory” for millions of Americans.

“This law will continue to provide a spectrum of key consumer protections including keeping young adults on their parents’ plans, ending pre-existing condition restrictions and increasing consumer information about health care choices,” he said.

Under Cuomo’s order, issued after legislation to establish the exchange stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate, health officials plan to show by January that the state is ready to participate in the federal program. The goal is to have the exchange operating on Jan. 1, 2014, Health Department spokesman Peter Constantakes said.

Cuomo didn’t immediately comment Thursday on the Supreme Court decision.

In April, when ordering the creation of the New York Health Benefit Exchange, he said it would help reduce “the sky-high cost of insurance” that is driving businesses out and preventing lower-income residents from affording coverage. “Establishing the health exchange will bring true competition into the health care marketplace, driving costs down across the state,” Cuomo said.

New York has about 11 million residents who are insured, mainly through employer health plans, and 5 million low-income residents enrolled in Medicaid. Census data from last year showed nearly 2.9 million New York residents, or about 15 percent, without insurance, although the state estimate is 2.7 million _ mainly working poor who don’t have employer-sponsored coverage and Medicaid-eligible residents who haven’t registered.

The Business Council of New York State said employers already struggle with high coverage costs, taxes and surcharges, and the Supreme Court’s ruling does nothing to “bend the cost curve.” The group said it will work to assure the exchange has full participation by insurers, agents, brokers, chambers of commerce and employers in all stages of development for “as robust a health insurance market and health care delivery system as possible.”

An assortment of tax increases, health industry fees and Medicare cuts are supposed to pay for the changes. Starting in 2014, almost everyone will be required to be insured, with some exceptions, or pay a yearly fine. That would be $695 per person up to $2,085 per household, or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater.

Cuomo issued the executive order after legislation to establish the exchange passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly but stalled in the state Senate, which has a Republican majority.

“We disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to affirm a massive tax increase that people cannot afford right now,” said Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate Republican Conference.

The Capital District Alliance for Universal Health Care said while it applauds the goals of Obama’s program, it doubts the mandate affecting for-profit insurers will result in affordable care for everyone. “We look forward to it being succeeded by a universal nonprofit single payer alternative over time,” it said.

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