The Supreme Court of the United States delivered an historic decision Thursday morning, June 25, in King v. Burwell.
In a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled that subsidies should remain available for lower-income people who purchase their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces, regardless of whether their marketplace is maintained by the federal or state government.
This ruling affects physicians in three ways I’d like to highlight:
1. The decision supports our chief goal of helping patients stay healthy.
The Supreme Court’s ruling means that about 6.4 million people in the 34 states that did not create their own marketplaces will retain their ability to purchase coverage going forward. This is particularly important for low-income patients in states that did not expand their Medicaid programs. Without the subsidies, many of them could never afford health insurance.
As an emergency physician, I regularly see how important insurance coverage is to facilitate patients getting the medical care they need to recover from unexpected injury or illness. It also enables them to lead healthier, happier lives through better care of chronic diseases that can be devastating for them and their families.
The decision also means that insurance premiums will remain more affordable for most patients than would have otherwise been the case. A recent RAND study estimated that eliminating subsidies for patients who purchase their insurance through the federally run marketplace would result in a 47 percent increase in premiums. In such a scenario, a 40-year-old nonsmoker who purchased an unsubsidized silver-level plan would have needed to pay $1,610 more next year.
2. The decision lets us move forward.
With this case behind us, we as a profession and as a nation now must focus on the issue at the heart of health care reform: Ensuring every American has access to high-quality, affordable health care.
Regardless of differing opinions, access to high-quality, affordable health care is an issue we can all support. And by continuing to work together toward this end—whether through refining individual elements of the ACA, such as repealing the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or making changes to the current health care system—we can improve the health of all Americans.
3. The decision means we can turn our attention to improving the practice environment.
In moving forward, we must also devote our attention to transforming the practice environment so that both patients and physicians are healthier and more satisfied.
At the AMA, we’re working to enhance professional satisfaction and practice sustainability by pressing for relief from the tsunami of regulatory burdens that gets in the way of providing the highest-quality care for our patients. Among those burdens are the electronic health record meaningful use program, implementation of ICD-10 and the value-based payment modifier. Lawmakers, too, are now able to turn their attention to these pressing topics.
We’re also providing the tools physicians need to minimize professional stress and overcome barriers to providing the best possible care. Our newly launched STEPS Forward website offers a free online series of proven solutions that are developed by physicians to make practices thrive. We’ll be adding more modules over the coming months, so be sure to explore the website often.
Also, on the STEPS Forward website, we invite you to submit your own innovative solutions to clinical challenges to win $10,000 and help us create more modules to help physicians.
Even in these early years of health care reform, implementation of the ACA has affected much of the health care system. To examine this issue further, I encourage you to check out the July issue of the AMA Journal of Ethics, which takes a look at how patient care has changed in the era of health care reform.