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Chamber forum to tackle impact of health reform law
Annual gathering set for Aug. 25 at Brenau Downtown Center
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Health Care Reform Seminar

When: 8 a.m. to noon Aug. 25

Where: Brenau Downtown Center theater, 301 Main St. SW, Gainesville

How much: $15, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce members; $20, nonmembers. Price includes light breakfast.

More info: 770-532-6206, ext. 111

A new health care reform bill was just emerging when the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce tackled the thorny subject in a community forum six years ago.

Since then, the bill became the Affordable Care Act — or more popularly, Obamacare — and has survived major U.S. Supreme Court challenges, including one this year involving tax subsidies that could have dealt a serious blow.

So as the chamber prepares to hold its annual update on Aug. 25, the law is looking more and more entrenched.

“It’s pretty much the law of the land, at this point,” said Brett Fowler, vice president and partner of Turner, Wood & Smith, one of the event’s sponsors. “There’s really not much that’s going to be changing.

“Even if there are changes with the president (in the 2016 election), there’s no way it can just be fully repealed the next day,” he said. “Some of it’s here to stay and I’m sure if there was a different political party (in power), they’re going to address some changes.”

For now, “it’s here to stay, at least for the time being and moving forward,” Fowler said.

And that means tackling some other tough issues, including one that gotten a lot of attention lately — same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court ruled in June that states must stop enforcing bans on same-sex marriage.

“Most people know about (the ruling), but I think there are some employers who don’t want to include it (in health care coverage) ... and (they) don’t have the option,” Fowler said. “They have to comply with the law.”

One other emerging issue on the health care scene that will be discussed at the chamber forum is the high cost of prescriptions, particularly “specialty” ones, or those that treat specific, serious health conditions.

Many consumers, including those who have bought insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace, face high deductibles in their health care coverage, including a pharmacy one.

“In half the plans out there, (prescription costs) go to medical deductible first,” Fowler said. “You could be paying full retail cost of the prescription for the entire year.”

The annual forums contain information handy for anyone, but are geared toward businesses. This year’s seminar is no different, covering such topics as benefit plan design and the “evolving employee benefits landscape.”

One of the hot topics is businesses that must offer insurance — or those with more than 50 employees — face a reporting requirement starting in January.

Turner, Wood & Smith “just had a seminar on the (topic) for our groups that our 50-plus,” Fowler said. “And we see a lot of employers scrambling to decide how they’re going to track it all.

“You have options to go with your payroll provider, on your own or through a third-party system,” he said. “What employers are finding out is that payroll companies and companies in general, it’s not cheap.

“It’s just an added cost that some (businesses) weren’t expecting or didn’t know what magnitude the cost would be.”

Overall, there’s plenty of information to go through at this year’s forum.

“We’re going to keep it to the main points — what (attendees) really need to know,” Fowler said.

The chamber made the forum an annual event four years ago, after the bill had become law and was stirring political controversy, particularly with the law’s requirement that everyone must have insurance or face tax penalties.

“When we first started, it was like anybody’s guess (how things would be),” she said. “In the fourth year, there’s so much that’s known but so much that is still unknown.”

Chamber CEO Kit Dunlap expects the event to be well attended. As of Friday, the chamber had registered 175 people, with 200 seats available.

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