The ACA: How the Supreme Court Ruling Affects Nurses

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June 29th, 2012

By , BSN, RN

Thursday, June 28, 2012 will go down a landmark date in the nearly 100-year-long battle for comprehensive healthcare reform in this country. That’s right, it wasn’t any president that most of us were even alive to remember who started this battle. Yesterday, Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive beliefs, in among other things, revisions to the health insurance industry, were finally supported by law.

It took 94 years and several more presidents and congresses to finally pass comprehensive health care reform in this country. However, the legislative victory met immediate judicial resistance.

One of the central issues with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was whether Congress had the power to require individuals to buy health insurance. Opponents argued that this requirement violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by forcing Americans to purchase health insurance against their will.

In the Majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the Court agreed with this argument and said that the individual mandate would, in fact, violate the Commerce Clause. However, the Chief Justice then said that the mandate could be upheld as a tax. So while Congress can’t force anyone to buy anything, it does have the power to tax you.

By upholding the law, the Justices also indirectly addressed another major issue relating to the law: Whether the entire law would be struck down if parts of it were found unconstitutional.

Now, the Court will never need to address this issue since it upheld the entire law.

How the ACA Affects Nurses

The ACA supports programs that will help increase the number of primary care physicians, nurses, physician assistants, and other health care professionals available to serve the public need.

The Affordable Care Act has far-reaching implications, a number of which directly affect nurses, nursing education, and nursing care. Since March 2010 the ACA has given nurses and other health care professionals a historic opportunity to improve the health of millions of Americans.

Approximately 3,000 nurses, including 800 advance practice RNs, have been hired for a growing network of community clinics created or partly funded through the ACA.

The ACA also has increased funding for nursing faculty and for nurses willing to work in underserved areas, and has doubled the number of nurse practitioners serving in the National Health Service Corps.

There are a number of other ways that the ACA is addressing issues important to nurses, nursing education, and nursing employment:

  • Nurse Faculty Loan Program (NFLP) – It provides increased funding for schools to offer loans to nurses who want to become nurse educators. It allows money for nurses to earn the necessary masters and doctorate level education to become nurse educators. The greatest focus is on doctoral programs.
  • Nursing Student Loan Program (NLP) – It allows nursing students from disadvantaged backgrounds, or those with limited financial resources, to access money which will allow them the opportunity to study and become successful nurses.
  • Nursing Workforce Diversity Program – Along with the NLP, these programs allow for long term, low-interest student loans as well as provisions for partial loan cancellation for nurses who choose to work in designated areas of the U.S. where there is a critical shortage of health care professionals. This program will also be enhanced with stipends, traineeships, and retention activities to help improve the cultural diversity among nurses and improve the care to patients through better representation of the cultural diversity in our nation.
  • Nurse Education, Practice and Retention Grant Program – This program is updated to include a refocused quality component. This will help provide nurses with a stronger background in quality improvement in order to assist in the mandated quality improvement of the entire healthcare delivery process.

Another aspect of the ACA that will affect many nurses and future nurses is the section that allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance until the child is 26 years of age. This is important to many students, who wish to continue their educations but until now would lose their coverage under their parents’ plans after the age of 21.

We will see the effects of the ACA in many other areas besides those specifically for aimed at nurses and nursing. Hospitals and other employers will be making changes, how insurance and payments are made will be affected, and maybe we will be one step closer to a functional, national, electronic health record system.

There will still be plenty of discourse on this topic; plenty of people arguing the merits of the ACA, the Supreme Court ruling, and how it will affect our next presidential election.

One thing is for sure, the above mentioned programs to help nurses are here to stay.

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