If Medicare is a vital part of your retirement planning, pay attention to what is happening with the fight over health care reform.
In November, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as health care reform or ObamaCare. The court will decide three separate issues:
- Whether the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but the rest of the law isn't.
- Whether the federal government's mandate that would force the states to expand Medicaid to cover more people is unconstitutional because the government doesn't have the right to force state participation in these kinds of programs.
- Whether the whole law is unconstitutional.
Last week, six national aging and retirement advocacy groups, including AARP, the National Senior Citizens Law Center and the National Council on Aging, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the high court saying that there are extensive provisions in the health care reform act that are of "vital importance to the health and well-being of people 65 and older." The brief argues that Congress didn't intend for any of the items that benefit Medicare recipients to be contingent on whether or not the minimum coverage provision is or isn't constitutional.
The brief lists these health care reform benefits that are already in place as among those at risk:
- Reduced cost-sharing for Medicare beneficiaries for prescription drugs by substantially reducing the coverage gap or so-called doughnut hole.
- Elimination of cost-sharing for annual wellness visits and other screening services.
- Medicare Advantage plans are prevented from charging higher cost-sharing for chemotherapy and dialysis than permitted under traditional Medicare.
- Decreased unnecessary institutionalization of Medicaid beneficiaries.
- Improved coordination of care for people receiving both Medicare and Medicaid.
- Improved quality and safety in nursing homes and prevention of abuse and neglect of elderly and people with disabilities in nursing and other residential facilities.
Who knows what the high court will decide? The decision on whether or not the government can force the states to spend money on Medicaid could be the one that has the most implications for all of us. If the top court says states can't be compelled to spend more on Medicaid, then what does that imply for other programs that require state participation in the interest of the welfare of all of us?
The decision is expected by June, just in time for the election silly season. This should be an interesting year.