October 18, 2012
LIMA — More than 100 small-business owners and professionals gathered at the City Club in downtown Lima on Wednesday afternoon to discuss how the health care reforms of the Affordable Health Care Act would affect them. Health care professionals also addressed their concerns, good and bad, about the health care reforms.
The primary purpose of the luncheon was for local employers to understand what they need to be doing right now with their employees, particularly with W-2 forms, information about small businesses that could be eligible for a health care tax credit, and what else needs to be filed to keep proper records. The event was organized by the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce.
The panel included Kevin Hinkle, of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Bob Armstrong, the CEO of Lima Memorial Health System, John Renner, vice president and chief financial officer at St. Rita’s Health Partners, Connie Miller and Becky Waggamon with Webb Insurance Agency, and Randee Henson with Stolly Insurance Group.
Electronic medical records are being expanded during the next few years, providing a central database for physicians all across the country. But attendees were concerned about the safety and confidentiality of medical files.
“The challenge we all face is that so many people have access to it,” Armstrong said. “There are people that know how to hack into those things.”
“We have the exact same standards that the bank and finance industries use,” Renner said to reassure the crowd.
The health care reform bill passed in 2009. The implementations of health care reform are going to be implemented until as late as 2015 and 2018, if it’s not repealed before then. There’s a lot of uncertainty with this reform with the presidential election still undetermined.
For Armstrong, in addition to mentioning the changes taking place, he said his concerns from a hospital perspective at Lima Memorial stem from problems that still exist in health care, reform or not.
“The real issue is there are so many different variables that go into why our health care cost is going up: demand, expectations, the baby boomer population. But … the biggest problem we have in our health care system [is that] the person using the care is not the person paying the full ride for the care. Otherwise, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation,” he said. “It’s an ethical issue, it’s a societal issue. Unless you’re paying for the service, you’re not going to be focused in on what you’re getting.”
Renner said that big health care costs come from preventable causes, including the results of tobacco use and physical inactivity.
“We’ve got to have solutions and ideas,” Renner said.
Armstrong and Renner said there are also many positive things being implemented with reform. For instance, Renner said everyone is given the opportunity to have access, one way or another.
“I like the fact that they’re starting to address the concerns that patients have, which is being able to exclude people with pre-existing conditions. I think it’s a good thing that we’re doing away with that,” Armstrong said.
He also cited more transparency and reimbursement incentives to make hospitals more quality competitive as examples of things in the health care world that are much needed that the reform will provide. However, there are consequences. Allowing people with pre-existing conditions drives up premiums.
Things to take effect in 2013 as far as the reform goes includes improvements on electronic medical records, which is to reduce paperwork administrative burdens and costs, an increased hospital insurance tax for high-wage workers, an increased income threshold for claiming itemized deductions for medical expenses, and establishing a medical device excise tax.
A big concern of Armstrong’s is that employers may decide to pay penalties rather than providing insurance to employers, because there would be a significant cost savings in doing that, at least at the beginning of the implementation in 2014. Same for employees. These individual mandates were a topic that Hinkle also discussed in detail.
In 2014, Armstrong said employees can bypass health insurance for an average of $400, saving perhaps thousands of dollars that health care would inevitably cost. Those fines continually increase year by year. But that then begs the question, will more people have insurance in the United States than before if mandates can easily be bypassed? The trends will only be truly known these implementations begin to take effect.
“One of the key challenges for us is just trying to figure out where this is going because we’re driving in the dark,” Armstrong said. “It’s a little bit unnerving.”