The Calm Before the Storm: Surviving the Impending Supreme Court Decision on Healthcare Reform

June 19th, 2012 by

The post below is a guest blog from Lindsey Surratt who serves as the Compliance Officer for CAI’s employee benefits partner, HCW Employee Benefit Services.

The United States Supreme Court is on the verge of issuing an opinion on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  The forecast is somewhat unpredictable, but the Court’s ruling can be narrowed down to a few possible outcomes.  The Court could take an “all-or-nothing” approach and either uphold or strike down the entire law.  Or, the Court could eliminate the Individual Mandate and allow the remainder of the law to stand.  The Court could also strike down other provisions in addition to the Individual Mandate, such as the prohibition on pre-existing conditions and community rating.

The tone of oral arguments and questions asked by the Justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy (likely the swing votes in this case), seem to indicate that the Individual Mandate will not survive.  But, predictions based on questioning in oral arguments have been an unreliable indicator of past Supreme Court decisions.

The arrival of the Court’s decision, much like a hurricane, is inevitable.  However, the preparation of carriers and employers thus far, as well as the response from carriers, employers, individual voters and State and federal governments, will shape the future of healthcare reform in the aftermath of the Court’s decision. The opinions of industry experts and legal scholars run the gamut from pandemonium to uneventful.

Dr. Bruce Vladeck, former Director of Medicare and Medicaid under President Clinton, predicts a decision overturning part or all of the law will result in “chaos” and an increase in the number of deaths among the uninsured population.  Other experts, including Gail Wilensky, Director of Medicare and Medicaid under President George H.W. Bush, predict a much more tempered result with reforms taking place at a slower pace.  Some reforms will continue regardless of the Court’s decision, with UnitedHealthcare, Aetna and Humana announcing voluntary extensions of certain insurance benefits regardless of the Court’s opinion.

Whether the Court’s decision wipes out the entire law or leaves pillars of it standing, state and federal legislators will continue to rebuild various aspects of the healthcare system in the United States.  There is no doubt that healthcare reform will emerge again as a pivotal issue in the 2012 Presidential Election.   What proactive steps can employers take to survive the upcoming Supreme Court decision outside of legislative and regulatory mandates?  Just as healthcare reform continues to evolve, so should an employer’s benefit strategies.

Implementing or expanding wellness program offerings, thoughtful evaluation of contribution strategies that incentivize employee involvement in healthcare delivery choices, consideration of alternate funding options, and increasing benefits education opportunities for employees will help employers weather the storm.  Although the regulatory landscape of healthcare reform will continue to change, the ultimate goals of increased efficiency, improved outcomes, and cost containment will remain the same.

By engaging in thoughtful benefit strategy choices, employers have the power to generate change in the healthcare market, even in the face of turbulent legal and legislative action.

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