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Agent: Health care decision changes little for most people

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 1, 2012 1:50 AM

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision Thursday upholding the Affordable Healthcare Act and its individual mandate component, local insurance agents are not expecting an immediate influx of people looking for health coverage.

Ed Spence, who, among other types, brokers health insurance, said Thursday that while important, the decision does not actually change anything, but simply affirms what has been in place since 2010 -- including the many questions about how the rest of the law will actually be implemented.

"For most people, nothing changed today," Spence said Thursday. "A lot of the legislation does not take place until 2014" -- including the individual mandate that was at the crux of the judicial challenge.

Items such as allowing young adults to stay on their parents' insurance policies until the age of 26 and covering 100 percent of preventative care with no deductible had already gone into effect, and several major insurance companies had already pledged to keep those in place regardless of Thursday's outcome.

"For the average person, this decision has no real impact on what's happening today, this week, this month or this year," Spence said.

Adding to the lack of urgency is the fact that most states have yet to set up the health insurance exchanges that will be used to sell policies to the public.

"Nobody knows how it's going to work -- if it's going to be an online system like going to buy an airplane ticket or what the involvement of the insurance brokers will be," he said.

And that's not even taking into consideration the possibility of the law still being rewritten or repealed, depending on the outcome of the November congressional and presidential elections.

"It's still a political football that's going to be bandied around," Spence said.

Personally, he added, he worries that the law, even with the mandate, does little to actually lower costs -- something he hopes Congress and the president will tackle in the coming year as adjustments are made to the legislation.

"I've been doing this for 30 years, and I'll be the first the acknowledge that there are some people who cannot afford health insurance," he said. "It's not that they don't have access to it, but they can't afford it. Then there are people who can afford it but who choose not to buy it."

But, he said, while he would counsel people to go ahead and buy health coverage, he also acknowledged that even with subsidies to help people afford policies, if the penalties for not having insurance are less than the premiums, then people will still refuse to get covered until they get sick.

"If they can't be denied, then what's the hurry," he said.