The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the official name for the health reform package that Congress passed in early 2012. For most adults, the full impact of this legislation will not be felt until 2014. In two years, all Americans will be required by law to have health insurance; in exchange, insurance companies will be forbidden from denying coverage, regardless of health concerns.
For millions of children and families however, the ACA's protections are currently providing critical coverage and services. Under the ACA, insurance companies were required to offer insurance to all children immediately, even those children with a pre-existing condition. In addition, children and their families no longer have to worry about lifetime caps on medical expenses, young adults can stay on their parents insurance until age 26 and, perhaps most importantly, the ACA offers home visitation services to at-risk families to prevent child abuse and neglect ad ensure the healthy development of all children.
What's the Supreme Court Got to Do with This?
You may remember from high school civics, or a college government class, that the US has three branches of government: legislative, judicial, and executive. In a nutshell, the legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch carries them out, and the judicial branch ensures legislation is Constitutional.
In April, the Supreme Court, (head of the judicial branch) heard arguments regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. To better understand the arguments, think of a play in four acts.
Act I: Is 2012 too early to hear the case?
As stated earlier, the ACA won't impact most Americans until 2014, so the Supreme Court must decide if they should wait until then to issue a decision.
Act II: Is the law requiring all Americans to have health insurance (the individual mandate) Constitutional?
The case against the ACA was argued on the behalf of a group of states that asserted Congress had overstepped their bounds in requiring all Americans to have health insurance. For most Americans, this requirement would involve a financial transaction of some sort, whether health coverage was provided through work with employees paying for a portion of costs, or if insurance was bought individually.
The Supreme Court will issue their decision regarding ACA any day now. Part One, Act III will be posted tomorrow.
Part Two of this series will examine the potential consequences of that decision on the prevention of child abuse and neglect; and more broadly, the health of children, youth and families today and for generations to come.