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The Supreme Court’s decision buys time

Thanks to media hype over controversial Supreme Court decision, more Americans learning what ACA will actually mean for them

Note to readers: I welcome reader comments and questions, and will try my best to reply in a timely manner. I ask only that you do your part to keep our discussion both reasoned and polite. – MM

Now, the power to make a decision about health reform is back where it should be – in the hands of the American people. In November, they will vote.

Ironically, the Supreme Court challenge may have put them in a better position to vote in their own self interest. When the case went to the Court, a dreary policy debate turned into a contest that piqued our interest. Americans like spectator sports: Who will win? Who will lose?

Thanks to the publicity, some learned that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate will apply only to Americans who don’t have employer-based insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. And while that relatively small group will be subject to a penalty if they don’t buy insurance, they also will be eligible for a subsidy if they do.

Last week, the Christian Science Monitor offered a quick lesson in How the Supreme Court Ruling Affects Families. Consider a “family of four, headed by a 45-year-old, with an income of $60,000” purchasing their own insurance. In 2014, they “would reap a tax subsidy of $9,308.”

If they didn’t buy insurance, in 2014 they would pay a penalty of $285. In the first year of reform, the penalty for a family that chooses not to purchase insurance will be $285, or 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater. In 2016, the penalty for a family peaks at $2,085, or 2½ percent of their income, whichever is greater.  Alternatively, CSM’s family of four could purchase a policy and receive a subsidy of more than $9,000.

Suddenly health reform doesn’t sound so scary. To find out how large a tax credit you would be likely to receive if your employer doesn’t offer health benefits and you find yourself shopping for your own insurance, check out the Kaiser Family Foundation’s subsidy calculator.

Subsidies vary according to your age, your income, the size of your family and whether the cost of health care in your region is higher than average, average, or below average.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the ACA is legal. I hope that in the months ahead, as we approach the November election, more and more journalists and bloggers will follow CSM’s example, and focus on the concrete details of the ACA.

Too often the media broadcasts Tea Party fantasies that turn out to be false. Now, voters want to know the truth: “What would the ACA mean for me?”

Maggie Mahar is an author and financial journalist who has written extensively about the American health care system. Her book, Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much, was the inspiration for the documentary, Money Driven Medicine. She is a prolific blogger, writing most recently for TIME’s Moneyland. Previously she wrote and edited the Health Beat blog for the progressive think tank, The Century Foundation. She also recently provided background on Congressional health care legislation for, a special project of the Health Insurance Resource Center.

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