The eyes of the nation will be on the U.S. Supreme Court next week, waiting for it to hand down its ruling on the legality of the 2010 landmark health care reform law.
Three months after the justices heard oral arguments on a challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by 26 Republican state attorneys general, the high court will rule sometime next week as its 2011-2012 term comes to a close.
The suspense will end with the Supreme Court decision that is widely expected to go in one of three directions:
• The justices will strike down the law's individual mandate, which will require most U.S. residents to enroll in a qualified health care plan or pay a financial penalty starting in 2014.
• The justices will allow the individual mandate to stand.
• The justices will strike down the individual mandate and with it the full law.
If the entire law is struck down, the result—at least in the short run—will be mass uncertainty, benefit experts say.
For example, employers and other early retiree health care plan sponsors will want to know if they will have to return $5 billion in claims reimbursement they received from a program created by the health care reform law.
Similarly, employers will need to know if coverage they extended—to comply with a health care reform law mandate—to employees' adult children up to age 26 is retroactively taxable.
Employers' "immediate concerns have to do with the fact that they have implemented some of those provisions," said Paul Dennett, senior vp-health care reform at the American Benefits Council in Washington.
In the event that the entire law is overturned, employers would need to decide whether they want to keep reform law mandates such as the adult child coverage, full coverage of preventive services, and no annual or lifetime dollar limits on essential services.
States also would face issues such as whether they would want to continue setting up insurance exchanges as required by the reform law.