In one of the most closely watched Supreme Court decisions, the Justices ruled the Obama administration can proceed with its landmark health care legislation. The Supreme Court said the administration can force people to buy health insurance as a mandate, but not as a penalty, but as a tax.
The issue of how to expand coverage to the nation’s almost 50 million uninsured Americans has been fiercely debated for decades, and has eluded American presidents since Richard Nixon, who supported the idea of universal coverage. For Latinos, access to health care has been a real challenge; currently 16 million Latinos lack coverage. In fact, almost one out of every three uninsured Americans is Hispanic. Most health care coverage is employer-based, and a majority of Latinos work in small businesses which do not offer insurance. The law is expected to expand coverage to 6 million Hispanics.
The Obama administration included the individual mandate as part of its sweeping health care legislation, saying it was necessary to spread the costs. Dr. Elena Ríos, President of the National Hispanic Medical Association, agrees, saying requiring most Americans to buy insurance helps ensure that costs are not shifted to others or the government.
Conservative organizations and lawmakers disagreed, and sued – taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. “I absolutely believe it is unconstitutional to make someone purchase insurance,” says Libertad.org’s Ortega. Republican Senator Marco Rubio says the law places too much of a burden on individuals and employers, and “will drive costs up, bankrupt the country and create bureaucratic red tape.”
Latino civil rights organizations like the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) support the law. ”As a group, Hispanics stand to gain the most coverage under this law ” says Jennifer Ng-andu, a health policy expert at the National Council of La Raza. ”Eighteen percent more Hispanics would be covered if the legislation is allowed to take effect.”
Latino supporters of the law say it has already made a difference.
“It is already changing lives,” says NCLR’s Ng’andu. She touts some of the provisions already put in place, such as allowing almost one million Latinos under 26 to stay in their parents health insurance plan if they do not have their own, or prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions such as asthma or diabetes. The law has expanded community clinics and preventive health services.
“In my district – 20,000 children and 80,000 adults now have health insurance that covers preventive services,” said California Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sánchez.
Latino activists who support the law say they are elated. “We will now spend our efforts making sure the law is implemented,” says NCLR’s Ng’andu.