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Health care law’s economic impact hard to judge

POSTED: December 29, 2013 11:42 p.m.

Even the law’s name suggests economic concern.

Meeting health care needs and footing the bills associated with them long have been prickly issues for Americans, but now there’s a federal law involved — the Affordable Care Act.

But what financial impact it will have on Americans and the U.S. economy as a whole is unclear, as the law has just begun its rollout, experts and others say.

The law takes effect Wednesday, including the “individual mandate,” or the part of the law requiring Americans to have insurance or face a penalty on income taxes filed in 2015. Starting in 2015, employers with more than 50 employees must offer health care plans or face a possible tax penalty.

“Some people are going to be shifting money they (normally) would be spending on other things to health insurance,” said David Bradford, health economist at the University of Georgia. “So, it’s less money going to things like cars.

“On the other hand, they’ll have health care for their medical consumption. They’ll be buying more health care, and the health care industry is a very robust, job-creating sector of the economy. In that sense, we’re going to stimulate demand for health care goods and services.”

Also, those who previously couldn’t afford health care may suddenly be taking advantage of it.

“Increasing the health of the previously uninsured will make them more productive and therefore more able to generate more goods and services in (their) jobs,” said Bradford, the Busbee Chair in Public Policy in the Department of Public Administration at University of Georgia.

“I can imagine we won’t be seeing big swings in employment one way or the other.”

The health care reform law, often referred to as “Obamacare,” has polarized many Americans since President Barack Obama proposed it in what would become his signature legislation.

Beginning Oct. 1, Americans could go online at government-regulated insurance “marketplaces,” or exchanges, and shop for insurance plans. But that endeavor has turned into a huge embarrassment for the administration, as the website, HealthCare.gov, has been fraught with technical glitches.

For those who have signed up, tax credits are available for anyone whose income is between one and four times the federal poverty level and if the amount of the insurance premium exceeds 9.5 percent of their income. Insurance policy amounts vary according to various factors, including age and size of household.

For some, depending on income and family size, monthly premiums could cost as little as $100.

But some people are seeing stiff increases in monthly premiums, compared to previously held plans, and the sticker shock doesn’t end there: There are higher deductibles and out-of-pocket limits.

“These exchange plans are not good,” said Rob Fowler, executive vice president of Turner, Wood & Smith, a Gainesville insurance firm. “I think a lot of people thought (the concept) was going to be like taking an employer’s plan and putting it on the exchange — and it’s not.”

In addition to higher upfront costs, “They’ve got limited benefits,” he said. “It’s a rude awakening for people.”

Fowler said he also is concerned for employers that will have to decide later in 2014 on coverage for their employees.

“When these smaller employers have to start complying with the law, and they can’t afford (dropping to) the $2,000 deductible, are they just going to drop (coverage)?” he said. “Are they just going to tell their employees to get an individual policy?

“We may have more uninsured people than we had before the law.”

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, a vocal critic of the law, said he believes that, in addition to families paying more for less health care, the health care industry also will suffer.

“You cannot force the hospitals or the doctors to accept certain insurance plans, and certain exchange plans are not going to be accepted at certain hospitals,” he said.

Speaking earlier this month to Hall County’s legislative delegation, Tony Herdener, chief financial officer for the Gainesville-based Northeast Georgia Health System, said he personally is concerned that the exchanges “will pay much less to providers” and produce a larger group of patients unable to pay costs.

“The term ‘indigent’ (also applies to) folks who cannot pay their deductibles or co-insurance,” he said. “They can pay the light bills and the food bills, but they can’t pay those (health) costs.

“That shift to that level in our (patient) population is going to be a tremendous risk.”

The health care law has created several advocacy groups that believe the Affordable Care Act will benefit many Americans.

One of those groups is the nonprofit Enroll America, which states on its website that it is a “nonpartisan organization whose mission is to maximize the number of uninsured Americans who enroll in health coverage made available by the Affordable Care Act.”

“Tens of millions of Americans stand to benefit from more accessible and affordable health care in the wake of health reform, creating an historic opportunity to improve the health and well-being of a significant portion of our society,” the group states on its website.

Another organization, Get Enrolled America, advises potential enrollees to consider their health care needs before they sign up for a particular plan, and that many can get financial help through the subsidies.

“There are many ways to find a health insurance plan that won’t break the bank,” according to its website.


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