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Enough about the 'T-word': Health care ruling is good for Alaska and its businesses

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Posted: Friday, July 13, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 10:37 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

Community perspective

The ink was barely dry on the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic health reform ruling before partisan opponents of the law attacked — just as they have every step of the way. First it was called socialized medicine. Then death panels. It was unconstitutional. Now it is the “largest tax increase in American history.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. The Court has ruled. The law has been upheld. The majority opinion was written by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts.

I suggest it’s time for Alaska’s political leaders to tone down their rhetoric and start figuring out how to make the law work for Alaskans.

As the owner of a small business, I wish the law had gone further to promote competition in the insurance marketplace — the public option. That would have reduced the growth of health insurance costs for my employees even more.

Still, there is good news in the health reform law: continued benefits for young adults able to get coverage through their parents’ insurance, free health screenings for seniors and others, more affordable prescription drugs, a new rule that says insurance companies have to pay you cash rebates if they use too much of your premiums on their overhead.

The law also says sick people can’t be discriminated against by insurers. No longer can they charge you more just for being a woman. And some 11,000 Alaska small businesses are eligible for tax credits to help them pay for health coverage for their employees.

Notice those words: tax credit. That’s not a tax hike; it’s a tax cut.

There are other examples in the law. About 40,000 Alaskans could become eligible for tax credits to help them pay for insurance they purchase in the health exchange. This is a middle-class tax cut. An Alaska family of four making up to $111,000 will be eligible. For some families, these credits will be worth thousands of dollars.

While there are taxes in the bill, this latest attack is based on the part of the court’s opinion that says the individual mandate penalty is a tax. Translated, that means people who can afford health insurance but choose not to get it will pay a fine on their tax forms. It is not a tax on all Americans. It is not a tax on the poor.

Some people call it a “freeloader fee” and that’s pretty accurate. The mandate has been championed in the past by Republicans and Democrats alike because people who don’t have insurance end up in emergency rooms. By law, hospitals have to treat the uninsured and those costs get passed on to everyone else as a so called “hidden tax.” This “hidden tax” jacks up premiums for Alaskans with insurance by about $1,000 more per year.

The “mandate” assures that people who can afford health insurance have to get it. Or pay a fine on their taxes. It is a choice they are allowed to make. Starting in 2014, if they can afford insurance but refuse to buy it, the rest of us will no longer subsidize their care for free. If they can’t afford insurance, there are subsidies available. This fine is expected to affect only about 1 percent of Americans.

There’s another very pro-business section of the law. States are required to create health exchanges — marketplaces where individuals and small-business owners can easily shop for insurance. This is not a government takeover, far from it. This is competitive coverage sold by private insurance companies.

If you don’t want to take my word for any of this, you can look it up for yourself at www.healthcare.gov. As an Alaska business owner, I urge my fellow Alaskans to step forward and embrace this law. Let’s set politics aside. It’s time to do the spade work necessary to understand the law and then move forward on behalf of us all.

Tom Livingston of Anchorage is a 50-year Alaska resident, an architect and part owner of a 25-person professional services firm.

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