What does health care ruling mean for Kern County residents?

What does health care ruling mean for Kern County residents? »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld virtually all of President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul, including the hotly debated core requirement that nearly every American have health insurance.

How could that affect your family's medical coverage and health care?Local experts have mixed opinions, and some say there are still plenty of questions ahead.

Local residents are also divided, and some are confused.

"My thought is, it should be repealed," Bodfish resident George Crane said. "I don't think we should be forced to have insurance that we don't want."

The provision to require health insurance, or the new "mandate," is the major development, according to San Joaquin Community Hospital spokesman Jarrod McNaughton.

Under the act, most Americans who can afford health insurance will be required to get it, those who don't will pay a penalty or fine.

"I know there's figures out there that the penalty is $695, or something like that," McNaughton said.

But, the new law also has requirements for businesses.

"There's both the individual mandate and then there's the employer mandate," Kern Medical Center CEO Paul Hensler told Eyewitness News.

He said companies with 50 or more employees must also provide health insurance or pay the penalty.

McNaugton said it's not clear what companies will decide to do. Employees may find their companies continue to provide medical insurance, so they won't see any change.

But other companies may take a different approach.

"There may be these businesses out there that would want to actually go ahead and pay the penalty to the federal government," McNaughton said.

Then, employees could go to the new insurance "exchanges" to get medical coverage.

Hensler said the exchanges are part of the new federal law, but they'll be operated by the states.

For people who can't afford medical insurance, the new law will put a lot more of them into government programs.

"Of the 50-plus million people in the United States who don't have coverage, that should bring coverage to 17- to 20 million of them," Hensler said.

He said more people with the lowest incomes will be brought into the Medicare or in California, the "Medi-Cal" systems.

Those with a bit higher income will get graduated amounts of assistance with different levels of subsidies being phased in.

Hensler said in California, the new insurance "exchange" is being set up. That will also have different levels of coverage and cost.

Three Bakersfield hospitals say they support the new law.

"Dignity Health is very pleased that the Affordable Care Act has withstood the Constitutional challenge," reads a statement from Memorial and the two Mercy hospitals.

"This legislation is an important first step in correcting an unjust health system that has left millions of people uninsured and forced millions more to cover those costs," the statement continues.

At San Joaquin, McNaughton said while the new law has survived the court challenge, there's still a lot that's not known about how it will be enacted.

The legislation is spelled out in a huge bill, but next a lot of regulations will have to be developed.

And, he worries about unanswered questions like how much doctors and hospitals will be reimbursed under the new "exchange" programs, and how families will sort through the new changes and options.

And, if people are required to have health insurance, how will they prove that? "I think that is the big question," McNaughton said.

Residents also have many questions.

"It seems like there's lots of talk, but nothing is being explained in plain terms," Bakersfield resident Megan Logsdon complained.

Adam Heath was walking up to San Joaquin Hospital to see his newborn daughter, who weighed just two pounds at birth. In the stroller was his "million dollar" son, who weighed only one pound when he was born.

"Health care, everybody needs health care," Heath said. Luckily, his employer provided health insurance. He's not sure how the new law will affect his family.

Hensler said some of the new law's provisions are already in place, and people are benefiting from them.

College students can stay on parents' insurance till age 26, coverage is guaranteed to people with preexisting conditions, and there are no life-time caps on coverage.

But, Hensler has serious questions, such as will there be enough doctors to provide care? And, what will happen to the health insurance many people are used to getting at work.

"A lot's going to depend on how the 'exchanges' are rolled out," Hensler said, "And what individual employers decide."