In just a few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Since its passage in 2010, the far-reaching federal act has been challenged by 26 states and a number of business organizations. Now, the court will hear more than six hours of oral arguments on March 26-28, deliberate for perhaps a month or longer, and then issue its decision.
Whatever the outcome, the Supreme Court ruling will have a profound impact on the nation’s healthcare system, impacting patient access to care, insurance, reimbursement, staffing, technology and other issues affecting the livelihoods of physicians, hospitals and other providers.
If the court upholds the act – or at least some of its provisions – approximately 16 million more Americans will have Medicaid coverage beginning in 2014. Since only about two-thirds of physicians now accept Medicaid patients, those providers will need to make plans to increase their staffing to address that higher demand. Another 16 million Americans would be eligible for health insurance coverage in 2014 through the “individual mandate,” again increasing patient demand for healthcare services.
On the other hand, the court could agree with the act’s opponents, who call it an overreach of federal authority, and strike down the entire act, or some of its provisions. That could put more regulatory power back in the hands of the states, and undoubtedly leading to more litigation in the future. It’s also possible that the court could decide to wait until 2014, when the act’s provisions go into effect, before tackling some or all of the substantive issues. In any case, this spring will be a momentous time for U.S. healthcare providers, who are hoping for a court decision that shows them a clear path forward.