February 19, 2013

Lawyer, Professor Debate Affordable Care Act

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A lawyer and a Syracuse University professor tackled The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and what its impact might be on religious groups and the healthcare system in a debate on campus Tuesday.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010. It aims to overhaul the American healthcare system through several reforms, including decreasing the number of uninsured Americans and lowering premium prices for policy holders.

Despite the passage of the act in Congress, Greg Katsas, a partner at law firm Jones Day, said the act remains contentious. He described Obamacare, which was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court last summer, as being “very oddly schizophrenic.”

“There are parts of it that are really wonderful and other parts that are awful,” he said.

One part of the act that Katsas said has been controversial is its requirement that religious-affiliated organizations cover contraceptives in their employees’ health insurance plans. While some Republican and conservative groups have pushed Congress to remove the requirement, Katsas said it would be a hassle to determine who should be exempt from purchasing health insurance plans based on religious affiliations.

“It seems very hard for [corporations] to offer abortion services for people with religious views,” he said.

Countering Katsas, Prof. Tucker Culbertson, law, Syracuse University, said that he is concerned about the Affordable Care Act infringing upon people’s right to freely exercise their religion. By requiring all corporations — including hospitals that may employ religious employees who oppose contraception — to cover contraception in their health plans, the act “would compromise the free exercise of religion,” he said.

“I see opinions against free exercise [of religion] and it concerns me,” Culbertson said, adding that he supports exempting church-affiliated universities, hospitals and charities from providing or paying for coverage of contraceptives.

“We have exemptions not just for houses of worship, but [for] all non-profit entities whose work and leadership suggest and lead to a religious opposition on the use of contraceptives,” Culbertson said.

Culbertson, however, also conceded that it is difficult to define which individuals or what groups should receive exemptions to the act.

“I don’t know that a corporation can pray. That’s one of the complications with the free-exercise claim — the definition of individual employees in religious institutions,” Culbertson said.

Katsas said that his biggest issue with the act is how it labels the individual mandate — the part of the act that requires all Americans to have health insurance — as a penalty, rather than a tax.

Although the act does not require all individuals to purchase health insurance plans, it allows the government to tax individuals who do not have health plans — something Katsas said should be reframed as a tax.

“The bill can’t force people to buy health insurance, but you can tax them for not buying health insurance. … The bottom line is that we are making a punitive penalty,” he said.

Dan Hartman, law, president of the Cornell Federalist Society — the organization that hosted the debate — said that both Katsas and Culbertson highlighted the complexities and controversies surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

“The Supreme Court decision went down last summer, but that doesn’t mean that it’s over. This debate is proof that there’s going to be challenges in the future for the [Affordable Care Act]; it’s still an unpopular piece of legislation,” Hartman said.

Hartman added that although the act was declared constitutional by the Supreme Court, Americans cannot be sure that “it’s going to be a smooth ride from now on.”

Though there are still aspects of the Affordable Care Act that could still be discussed, Hartman said the debate Tuesday brought many remaining issues of the act to light.

“I think it went really well. Both speakers brought immense intellect from both sides; I don’t think it could have gone better,” he said.

Original Author: Kevin Milian