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By Jennifer Ng’andu, Deputy Director, Health Policy Project, NCLR

It’s probably the hottest seat in Washington, DC—and you can’t buy tickets to it. Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the almost two-year-old health care reform law. For or against it, hundreds of people will line up on the steps to try and secure one of the limited seats in the Court reserved for the public. And for good reason: the Supreme Court’s decision will have major bearing on the health care experiences of Americans for generations to come.

The outcome of this case is especially important for Latinos because it will dictate future health care access for a population that is increasingly a driving force in the country, but whose health has been put at risk because they are pitifully underserved in our current system. As the data from the 2010 Census revealed, Latinos, often perceived as an emerging population, have unquestionably come of age. Already one in four children in the United States is Latino—and that number is expected to increase to one in three by 2030. Yet Latinos have long been disconnected from the health care system, carrying many unnecessary medical burdens and ills throughout life.

Even from birth, Latinos have less equitable access to health care in almost every part of the system. Latino children have uninsurance rates double that of the general population. Furthermore, experts from the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention note that one in two Latino children born in 2000 are at risk of developing diabetes within their lifetime. Roadblocks to quality, affordable health coverage and care had been virtually cemented in place prior to the enactment of health reform. The Affordable Care Act was the first step forward in changing the status quo that made Latinos the most uninsured community in the country.

While lawyers and experts may disagree about whether or not the Affordable Care Act should move forward, there’s no disagreement about one simple fact: this law has already shifted health care as we know it in the United States. From a parent’s or caretaker’s perspective, there are obvious gains that have been made in a short amount of time. Consider this:

  • Most Americans should have seen their out-of-pocket medical expenses for necessary tests and screening decrease between 2011 and 2012. Seventy-two preventive services were declared free of charge for patients, meaning that services such as well-child visits became free. This was an important addition to the pocketbooks of Latinos, who dish out more of their resources for medical expenses than any other group.
  • Key provisions in the law already require that states maintain eligibility levels for Medicaid. The protections have been vital in securing program access for the most vulnerable Americans, including the one in four Latino adults and one in two Latino children who are on Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • An astonishing 736,000 young adult Latinos under the age of 26 were able to secure insurance through their parents in the two years after the enactment of the ACA. That is the highest gain in insurance of any racial or ethnic group, and a promising trend for a population in which 50,000 individuals turn 18 each month. Similar to their peers just entering the workforce or college, they may not have another option for affordable insurance.
  • Finally, consumer protections have been heavily bolstered. For instance, insurance companies can no longer deny dependent coverage to a family with a very sick child.

So as the Supreme Court proceedings inch closer, legal jargon and political statements may rule the day. But hundreds of people camped out for seats show what—and who—is really at stake. Should we take away coverage for more than a million young adult workers just getting on their feet, or children suffering from cancer or asthma or heart conditions? That is exactly what would happen without the Affordable Care Act. Whatever the Supreme Court rules, one thing is undeniable—the Affordable Care Act has already and could continue to open access to health coverage for millions of Americans who need it.
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