A week before the Supreme Court hears arguments about the constitutionality of the federal health care law, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy held a conference call with reporters to speak about the importance of the controversial individual mandate.
The bill, which was signed into law two years ago today, relies on the minimum coverage provision – or the individual mandate, as it’s known – which will take effect in 2014, Murphy said. The mandate forces to create health care exchanges that will expand healthcare coverage while reducing costs for both insurers and patients, Murphy said.
The mandate, which Murphy said lies within the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce set forth in the U.S Constitution’s commerce clause and the necessary and proper clause, rests on the notion that by creating a large customer pool that includes both healthy and sick people, premium costs will decrease because more people are paying into the system.
If the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional, the bill’s most effective provisions would be undone, Murphy said.
Other provisions that increase coverage for preventative care will help to reduce costs and increase the wellness of patients by helping doctors make diagnoses earlier, before a disease like cancer has time to worsen.
“It would be impossible for insurers to provide low premiums without a large coverage pool that includes both healthy and sick people,” Murphy said.
So far, the legislation has been most effective at expanding care for seniors and young adults by lowering the cost of expensive prescription drugs and upping the age limit for coverage under a parent’s plan to 26, which has extended coverage to 3,600 young adults in Murphy’s district.
More savings will be made possible In 2014, when tax credits that will make healthcare affordable to millions of Americans and thousands of Connecticut residents take effect, as will a ban on discriminating against people with preexisting medical conditions, which Murphy called “the bill’s most transformative measure.”
Murphy touted the provisions of the bill which he said have lowered costs for thousands of Connecticut residents.
A provision that closed the “donut hole” of medicare prescription coverage left by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 – which cut coverage for seniors who annually spend more than $2,840 but less than $6,440 – has saved about 7,000 seniors living in Murphy’s district an average of $600 per person.
Increasing coverage under medicare and private insurers for preventative services like mammograms have helped reduce the overall cost of healthcare by increasing the chances that cancer or other diseases will be caught early, reducing the cost of treatment and improving patients’ life expectancy.
Skip Burritt, an advocate for the American Cancer Society and small business owner from New Britain, said his insurance company denied coverage for preventative screenings because he did not have a family history of colon cancer.
He was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for treatment after both he and his wife were diagnosed three months apart. She passed away in 2007.
Preventative screenings can greatly reduce the price of treatment. Burritt said treatment for breast cancer can cost between $50,000 and $250,000.
Burritt’s medication and ongoing treatment are covered under the legislation, but if the small business he owns and operates were to fail, he would not be able to afford treatment until the preexisting condition ban takes effect.
Not everyone from the 5th Congressional District harbors warm feelings about the bill. Sen. Andrew Roraback, R – Torrington, said that many patients are disgruntled about increasing health care costs.
Republicans, including Roraback, disagree with Murphy’s assessment that the bill will reduce health care costs for Connecticut residents in the long term.
Roraback said that while certain provisions of the bill are “laudable,” including a ban on private insurers denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition which will take effect in 2014, he supports a repeal because estimates of the bills’ long-term price tag have increased – a sign that members of Congress did not understand the legislation before voting.
“The high-minded aspirations of this plan have been deflated by reality,” Roraback said. “And the reality is that a bill that two years ago was predicted to cost $940 billion is now only two years later projected to cost twice that $1.76 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.”
Praising the health insurance reform enacted in Massachusetts by former Gov. Mitt Romney, Roraback said that state governments are in the best position to enact effective healthcare reform.
“I believe that first of all I think states are better able to come up with cost effective solutions than is the federal government,” Roraback said. “We should empower each of the 50 states to address this issue.”
Federal judges in Florida and Pennsylvania have ruled against the bill, and lawsuits have been filed by 28 states against the federal government for allegedly forcing their citizens to buy into an unconstitutional mandate. Connecticut is not a party to any of the lawsuits even though Republican lawmakers encouraged former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to join.