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Many anxious over impending Supreme Court ruling on health care subsidies

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Many in Louisiana are anxiously awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on federal subsidies tied to the Affordable Care Act. And some said if justices side with those fighting to cripple the law, the impact in Louisiana will be catastrophic.

Opponents of the law want the high court to bar people living in states that do not have their own health insurance exchanges or marketplaces barred from getting the subsidies in the future.

"I pay $27 and change a month,” said Cassidy Henderson, a young man living in New Orleans.

He said before signing up for health coverage late last year through the federal health insurance marketplace, called Healthcare.gov, his mother was paying a hefty amount monthly to make sure he had medical coverage.

Now, because of the federal subsidy he received, he foots his own insurance bill.

"Was costing her about $190 a month. Just for me - not her included at all - and that was actually, I think, slightly worse coverage than I have now. My deductible was higher,” said Henderson.

He and many others are nervous about how the Supreme Court might rule on the challenge to the health care law. Opponents maintain that the law's language mandates that federal subsidies flow through state-run health insurance exchanges.

Louisiana is one of the more than 30 states that refused to set up an exchange, so its residents buy insurance through Healthcare.gov and can receive subsidies through the website, if eligible.

UNO Economist Walter Lane, an expert in healthcare economics, said if the subsidies go away for the majority of the people who signed up through the federal marketplace, the impact on the nation's economy will not be small. He said more than seven million people will be affected nationally, and the effect in Louisiana will be hard to miss.

"It will pretty much destroy, especially in Louisiana since we didn't do the Medicaid rollout. It'll ultimately destroy almost everything about the Obamacare,” Lane said.

As part of the law, states were encouraged to accept millions in federal dollars to expand the eligibility requirements for people who do not earn enough to buy insurance for themselves, or did not receive it through their employment, so that more families would qualify for government health care.

But Gov. Bobby Jindal has refused to expand Medicaid. He said it will cost the state more money in years to come.

"It probably will be the largest economic blow. It will equate to a social disaster,” said Thelma French, president and CEO of Total Community Action.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for the week of Feb. 7-15, 184,532 Louisianians had enrolled through Healthcare.gov. And in terms of the federal assistance, about 89 percent who enrolled received the subsidy.

French said she sees firsthand how the subsidies help the working poor. Among other services, TCA provides income tax help and subsidies come into play.

"For TCA, which is the largest volunteer income tax assistance agency in the city, we have served about 80-percent of those people who have come here are actually using the health care exchange who are purchasing healthcare and many of them state that they would not have been able to afford it had it not been for the tax subsidy for the credit."

Those working with 504 HealthNet agree.

"An individual who makes a little over $12,000 a year for them to afford health insurance without these subsidies, it's really impossible, you're asking them to make choices between health insurance, electricity, or food,” said Susan Todd, the agency's executive director.

And some believe there will be more strain on the public health care system if people in Louisiana can no longer use federal subsidies to get health insurance.

"You will have a widening gap of that socio-economic impact of people in need of quality health care,” said French.

Henderson said having the subsidy was a savings of $1,600 in the marketplace.

"It would be a big hit to my income whereas as it is right now it's costing me less than what some people pay for cable TV,” he said.

Dr. Lane believes there will be chaos, at least in the early going if the subsidies are erased for millions.

“ There's a lot of things that could happen if the Supreme Court decision goes in that direction to try to save that, but if nothing else happens they will all lose their subsidies.”

He said it is a big deal for economy.

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