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The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a great victory for all Americans. As House chair of the Connecticut General Assembly's Public Health Committee, I have advocated for a more equitable, accessible and affordable health care system and this decision goes a long way toward furthering those priorities.
We are fortunate that Connecticut has been ahead of the curve when it comes to coordinating health care, protecting health care consumers and expanding access. At the state level, we have been working to put into place a framework for health reform for some time. Our policies have emphasized prevention and the management of chronic disease, as well as lowering taxpayer costs and allowing municipalities to join the state health insurance pool.
The SustiNet Healthcare Cabinet was put into place to explore alternatives that better serve those who cannot access health insurance in the private insurance market. Even before ACA, we passed a law that allows parents to keep their grown children on their health insurance policies until the age of 26.
The Affordable Care Act has already put resources behind these efforts, will expand our innovations to other states and give Connecticut the opportunity to take advantage of many bipartisan initiatives other states have pursued. For example, Massachusetts was successful in instituting a number of consumer protections, including a law barring insurance companies from denying coverage to people because they have an illness or disability. To offset the costs of requiring insurers to cover people with health needs, Massachusetts lawmakers instituted an individual responsibility provision into their law. This provision, known as the individual mandate, requires most people to buy insurance. The Massachusetts health care system also provides generous subsidies for low- and middle-income families and allows everyone to access new insurance protections.
Similarly, the ACA requires those of us who can afford health insurance to each pay our fair share. Having health insurance is and will continue to be a choice. But for those who can afford insurance and choose not to buy it, the court said it's constitutional to charge them a fee so the rest of us don't have to pay for their care for free.
Further, to help more families afford health care, the ACA will provide the largest tax cut for health care in American history. Millions of families will receive hundreds of billions of dollars in tax credits to help them pay for insurance in the new exchanges. This tax relief for working families will make insurance more affordable for those who can't get it through work or whose employer insurance is too expensive.
In addition, the court limited, but upheld a provision of the ACA that expands access to Medicaid for adults with very low incomes - individuals making under $14,800 per year. This ruling is critically important, because Connecticut was an early adopter of the Medicaid expansion - replacing a 100 percent state-funded program with Medicaid and drawing down a federal match. This expansion of Medicaid eligibility will lower costs for uncompensated care as patients will not wait until their conditions worsen before seeking emergency care for which they cannot pay.
All of these historic changes of the ACA will contribute in many positive ways to a healthy, more robust Connecticut. Seniors will not have to choose between their medications and food, small businesses will pay predictable premiums for their employees, and most importantly, individuals will be able to pursue their dreams, whether they succeed or fail, without the specter of financial ruin because they were unfortunate enough to get sick.
A Democrat, Betsy Ritter is the state representative for the towns of Waterford and Montville.