The new federal health care law requires virtually all Americans to buy health insurance, but it provides tax credits and subsidies to help cover the cost.


     The federal health care law requires virtually all Americans to buy health insurance, but it provides tax credits and subsidies to help cover the cost. Another provision of the law allows children to remain on their parents' health insurance plan until they turn 26, and a third section bars insurance companies from excluding patients with pre-existing medical conditions.
     But the law could be in jeopardy if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate requiring people to buy health insurance, or if President Barack Obama does not win a second term, said Suzi Lenker, who works in the consumer assistance division of the Kansas Insurance Department.
     Lenker spoke during the Senior/Boomer Expo, which took place Thursday at the Civic Center. The SouthWest Kansas Agency on Aging and the city of Dodge City sponsored the event.
     Lenker said she listened to oral arguments over whether the Supreme Court should uphold the individual mandate, and she could see both sides of the issue.
     "I think the Supreme Court has a real tough decision to make, because either way they go, it's going to affect all of us and our tax dollars," she said.
     The Kansas Insurance Department's mission includes regulating the state's insurance industry, educating consumers, advocating on their behalf and licensing insurance agents.
     As part of its work, the department is working on setting up a key element of the health care law: insurance exchanges.
     The federal Department of Health and Human Services will evaluate each state by January 2013 to determine whether they are ready to set up an exchange — an online marketplace where people can shop for health insurance. Low- and moderate-income people can also obtain health insurance subsidies through the exchange.
     The states are supposed to have their exchanges up and running by January 2014. If a state decides not to operate its own exchange, the federal government will operate one in that state.
     Lenker said her department will have to be ready to implement the exchange if the Supreme Court upholds the law.
     "We can't not be ready, because the law is there," she said.

Reach Eric Swanson at (620) 408-9917 or email him at eric.swanson@dodgeglobe.com.