On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), colloquially referred to as “Obamacare.” ACA has numerous provisions, some of which are currently in effect and some of which will take effect in the next several years. The most recognized and disputed of these provisions is the “individual mandate.” This particular provision requires individuals, unless exempted, to maintain a certain level of health insurance coverage for themselves and their tax dependents in each month beginning in 2014. Although a myriad of other complaints has been raised about ACA, the act does call for certain reforms of the health insurance market, many of which benefit women.

The National Women’s Law Center recently released a Fact Sheet detailing many of these reforms. For example, ACA prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to women for certain pre-existing conditions. Because ACA requires insurers to sell insurance to anyone wishing to buy coverage, insurers may no longer deem a woman as having a preexisting condition and deny her coverage if she is pregnant at the time, she seeks insurance or if she previously gave birth via Caesarean section. ACA also prohibits insurance companies from charging women higher premiums than men of the same age.

Moreover, ACA considers maternity care to be an “essential health benefit” that all insurance plans must cover, it provides access to important screenings many women forego due to cost, and it protects nursing mothers by requiring employers with more than fifty employees to provide breaks and a private place for nursing mothers. Although not specifically aimed towards women, ACA also expands Medicaid eligibility.

On the other hand, recent focus groups have found ACA to be unpopular with women. More specifically, women are concerned about the new level of bureaucracy they will be required to face when attempting to obtain appropriate medical care for their families. Women are also worried about potential delay in care and decreased quality of care.

As with most federal laws, ACA has many benefits and drawbacks. ACA attempts to make health insurance more readily available and affordable to those who lack the benefit of employer health insurance. As explained above, it also ends various insurance company practices that are often detrimental women. Yet, the act mandates most individuals to maintain minimal essential health insurance coverage as of 2014, a provision which the public finds unconstitutional pursuant to recent polls.

Between March 26 and 28, 2012, the Supreme Court heard extensive oral arguments regarding the constitutionality of the individual mandate and Medicaid expansion provisions, the severability of the individual mandate from the rest of ACA, and the courts’ ability to rule on ACA’s constitutionality. If the Supreme Court finds the individual mandate to be unconstitutional, it will then consider whether the mandate is severable. In the event the Court determines ACA cannot function independently of the individual mandate, and if it concludes Congress would not have enacted the other provisions without the mandate, the entire act could be struck down. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a written opinion before the close of the current term in June 2012.

This article appeared in the May 2012 issue of the Valley Business Journal