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Panel Discusses Impact of Affordable Care Act Decision on Low-Income Americans

September 24, 2012

Professor David S. Cohen and Philadelphia Community Legal Services attorney Kristen Dama discussed the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's Affordable Care Act decision during a panel discussion at the law school on Sept. 24 hosted by the Drexel National Lawyers Guild

At the close of its Spring term, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 decision led by Chief Justice John Roberts.  The court found the act, which aims at providing health care coverage to all Americans, constitutional under Congress' tax power but made the state Medicaid expansion optional, Cohen said. 

Cohen, who teaches Constitutional Law at the law school noted that many were shocked that Roberts, one of the most conservative justices on the court, supported the law's constitutionality.  However, Cohen does not believe that Roberts' decision in support of the act means he will continue to support more liberal polices. Instead, Cohen proposed that Roberts' decision was strategic.  By writing a decision in support of the law, Roberts was saving his ideological capital to later spend forwarding his more conservative agenda on issues such as affirmative action and abortion, Cohen added.

Dama, who works with low-income individuals as a Philadelphia Community Legal Services attorney, believes the Affordable Care Act is an enormous step forward that will generally provide "good coverage" to the majority of Americans.  However, a huge obstacle, Dama said, is the Court's decision to allow states to opt in to the Medicaid provision of the law.  Already, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has threatened to not expand Medicaid in accordance with the act, Dama said. This ultimately hurts poor people, Dama claimed, and means that an estimated 800,000 people in the state will be left uninsured. 

Advocates for the poor are "pinning their hopes on hospitals," Dama claimed.  Prior to the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would allocate money for hospitals to care for uninsured people in need of emergency medical care.  However, with the Affordable Care Act, hospitals agreed not to take the money and instead recoup their expenses from insurance.  In the event a state fails to adopt the Medicaid expansion, hospitals may be unable to recover a huge chunk of costs because so many will be left uninsured, Dama said.  Thus, Dama expects hospitals, which normally have a lot of clout, will be hard at work lobbying both the state and federal government to remedy this deficiency, Dama concluded.