MONDAY, June 18 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide the fate of the most consequential piece of health legislation since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid nearly a half-century ago.
The court is expected to hand down its ruling on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration's signature legislative achievement, sometime in late June.
The law set in motion a series of reforms designed to extend health coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans. It seeks to accomplish these goals in several ways. More lower-income people will be allowed to enroll in Medicaid, while other uninsured individuals can buy coverage through new state health insurance exchanges. Some people who buy coverage may qualify for tax credits.
The 2010 law's most controversial component -- and one of the key targets of the Supreme Court's scrutiny -- requires almost all Americans to maintain health insurance coverage or pay a penalty.
The law also aims to improve the quality and efficiency of health care. For example, there are programs to improve care coordination and reduce fraud and abuse in Medicare, the government-run insurance program for older and disabled Americans.
A number of the law's most popular provisions are already in effect. For instance, parents in private insurance plans that offer dependent coverage can keep their adult children on the plan up to age 26. And most plans must cover preventive health screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, at no out-of-pocket cost to the patient.
Core elements of the law -- such as expanding Medicaid, establishing the state health insurance exchanges and requiring people to have coverage or pay a penalty, known as the "individual mandate" -- aren't scheduled to take effect until 2014.
The high court could decide to uphold the law i
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