Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on what is perhaps the most significant legal victory for the health and wellness of the American people in the last 60 years.
The Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act carries with it great benefits for Americans, but will have an especially strong effect on Latinos, who are disproportionately uninsured. As we move toward full implementation of the law in 2014, more and more of its benefits will become clear. Overall, the law is doing three key things to improve our health care system: providing new consumer protections, expanding health coverage, and helping to reduce and control health care costs.
For too long, access to quality care has been a challenge for many Latino families for reasons that include growing out-of-pocket expenses, transportation issues, unaffordability or a shortage of health care professionals in the area. In fact, the Latino population routinely pays more in out-of-pocket health expenses and is more likely to dip into savings to cover health-related expenses than any other group. Under full implementation of the new law, affordable health coverage is a reality.
The Urban Institute estimates that the new law will help six million Latinos gain access to coverage that was previously unattainable due to factors such as cost or insurance companies’ ability to deny coverage. Consumer protections and state health benefit exchanges will make help coverage affordable and increase the quality of care for those in need of insurance and those whose coverage is inadequate. And the new law will continue to reduce costs by keeping individuals out of emergency rooms for routine care, provide access to preventive care, and stop people from delaying treatment.
One significant provision of the law that has stayed in place due to the Court’s decision allows the nearly 750,000 Latino young adults (age 19-26) to remain covered through their parents’ plan. Some additional common sense reforms eliminate exclusions based on pre-existing conditions and guarantee your insurance company can’t cancel your coverage due to illness, letting Latino families focus on getting well instead of worrying about how getting sick could lead to financial ruin.
We know the law is not perfect – for example, it does nothing to address the uninsured undocumented Latinos in this country – but it is a step in the right direction. Furthermore, the expected expansion of community clinics under the new law will be an increasingly reliable resource for all residents.
The Supreme Court’s ruling can help make health happen in our neighborhoods. It is a step forward in making affordable, quality health coverage available to all. In fact, by 2014 every American will be better off than they are today. And that’s a win for America.
Richard Figueroa is the Director of Prevention for The California Endowment.