insurance

Health care reform and the big 'What if?'

The reason? Business has increasingly recognized that maintaining a healthy workforce is cost-effective.

"I don't see large employers rolling back 100 percent coverage on preventive care," says Tom Billet, a senior benefits consultant with the global consulting firm Towers Watson. "Many companies already covered that even before health reform."

But preventive services that are "free" to consumers under health care reform could cost them in the form of higher premiums if the law is struck down, Stream says.

Large employers certainly have their differences with the law, especially its scheduled excise tax set to begin in 2018 on so-called Cadillac plans geared toward executives. But "they probably view certain aspects of it as a positive," says Billet. What large employers want most is an end to the uncertainty that has scuttled their long-term planning, he says.

A different kind of exchange

The law has required states to set up health exchanges, where consumers can compare prices and buy insurance under the individual mandate. If the act is struck down, are those marketplaces likely to survive?

"No, I don't think so," says Ken Sperling, national health exchange strategy leader for the global consulting firm Aon Hewitt. "Because a critical part of this law is the prohibition on medical underwriting based on preexisting conditions. In order for insurance companies to be OK with giving up the right to underwrite (based on health), they want to get healthy people into the pool." And that makes the exchanges necessary.

However, exchanges of another sort may be on the way as Aon and other consulting firms roll out private-market versions for large employers, so employees can comparison-shop for health insurance.

"We're borrowing a concept from the Affordable Care Act, but what we're doing is not dependent on anything in the legislation," he says. "So whatever the Supreme Court does, we're moving forward."

Doctors dread the morning after

In the event the Supreme Court strikes down health care reform, doctors will be the first ones thrown into a freefall of questions.

For example, would they immediately have to start billing Medicare patients for wellness visits, which are "free" under health care reform? How do you prescribe medications for seniors suddenly thrown into the Medicare Part D doughnut hole, who can't afford name-brand prescriptions? And who's going to pay the bill for the 25-year-old who says she's covered under her parent's plan?

"I think everyone will sort of be numb," says Stream. "There's a lot of it that would affect actual day-to-day practice. There are a whole bunch of pieces that would fall apart."

Yet Stream isn't sure a celebration will be in order if the health care reform law survives.

"It doesn't completely get the job done in terms of reforming our health care system," he says. "Whether it stands or whether it goes, there's going to be work to be done."

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