Here's the most underreported story of the summer. When the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) it inadvertently liberated millions of people who were going to be forced into Medicaid. Now they will have the opportunity to have private health insurance instead. What difference does that make? It could be the difference between life and death.
A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report this week says there are 3 million such people. The actual number could be several times that size. But first things first.
Imagine that you are the head of a family of three, struggling to get by on an income, say, of $25,000 a year. You've signed up for your employer's health plan because you want your family to get good health care when they need it. But that takes a big bite out of your paycheck — $250 a month.
When you first heard about the president's health plan, you heard him say that if you like the plan you're in you can keep it. That was good news. You also believed the whole point of the reform was to help families like yours get health insurance if for some reason you had to seek insurance on your own.
Now get ready for some surprises. The first will be an announcement that in another year or so your employer's health plan will no longer be available to you. The reason: plain economics. People at your income level will qualify for as good or better health insurance in a new health insurance exchange. And almost all the premium will be paid for by the federal government. Most people like you would rather have higher wages than a health plan that duplicates what you can get almost for free, your employer will reason. So in order to compete for labor, your company will have to give prospective employees the compensation package they most want. And your employer will be right.
Then there will be a second surprise. Under the new rules, if you are eligible for Medicaid, you can't get private insurance in the exchange. Further the health reform law is designed to force the states to raise the income level for Medicaid. If your state complies, someone with your income will be eligible for Medicaid and you won't be allowed in the exchange!
Now if you were a resident alien, the rules are different. Since they don't generally qualify for Medicaid, immigrant families at your income level can get subsidized private insurance in the exchange. But alas, you're a citizen. So this option isn't open to you.