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New health law seminar full of info but lacking assurances
Rob Fowler, executive vice president of Turner Wood & Smith Insurance, speaks at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce seminar on health care reform at the Brenau Downtown Center.

Coming soon

In Sunday’s paper, The Times provides in-depth coverage of how the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, will affect local residents. Coverage Monday will explore how the law affects health care providers. And in Tuesday’s paper, learn about what businesses are preparing for in terms of providing health care to employees.

A seminar on the new health care law and its impacts on Wednesday provided a lot of information, but not a lot of assurance it’s the fix the system needs.

Many provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, take effect late this year and in 2014, starting with online health insurance exchanges going live Oct. 1. The seminar at the Brenau Downtown Center featured five presentations and a short panel discussion where some of the speakers answered audience questions.

Speakers included Ralph Hudgens, state insurance commissioner; Phaedra Corso, director and professor of the Economic Evaluation Group at the University of Georgia; and Rob Fowler, executive vice president for Turner Wood & Smith Insurance.

The industry experts explained the exchanges for individuals, and focused on the new law’s impact for businesses. About 300 people attended.

“The theory behind the Affordable Care Act is that it builds on the current system that we already have,” Corso said. “The system that has led us to high health care costs and poor health outcomes and no access to health insurance. To me, this is a major failing of this health care reform.”

Richard Sanders, an Atlanta attorney who represents health insurance providers, quoted some statistics released earlier this week by the Census Bureau that he said could show the new law could already be impacting people. For the past four years, the number of people in the U.S. getting health insurance from their employers has declined. About 171 million get insurance through their employers and nearly 49 million get their health insurance through Medicare. The employer insurance decline is important, he said.

“Are employers choosing to stop offering health insurance as a result of the implementation of this law?” he asked.

Recent Census Bureau numbers also show that nationally, the number of uninsured Americans increased from 44 million in 2009 to 48 million.

“Since the passage of health care reform, the number of uninsured has increased by 10 percent,” Sanders said. “What do we take from that? I think the (Barack Obama) administration would take from that the sense of urgency in why health care reform needs to be implemented. Conservatives and opponents of the law would take from that that the law, and even the threat of implementation of the law, are pushing business leaders to stop offering health insurance and as a result, people are losing their health insurance.”

While the federal government has delayed some employer requirements to 2015, business executives still need to educate their workers on parts of the law that take effect next month and next year.

Key considerations for companies included understanding the mix of full and part-time employees, the cost of providing health insurance versus paying the penalty and the need for high-skilled workers.

Some companies are exploring new ways to cut costs and provide service, including biometric screenings, questionnaires, consumer-driven health plans, dropping spousal coverage and vouchers.

Companies got a bit of a reprieve in July when the Treasury Department delayed enforcing the employer mandate. The mandate requires companies that have 50 or more employees and don’t provide quality affordable health insurance will be fined starting in 2015.

Hudgens said Georgia told insurance companies they had to cover 45 things in eight categories. The ones Georgia doesn’t currently mandate that must be covered after Jan. 1 are vision and dental services for children and habilitative services, which means helping a child develop a skill or improving a skill and is often associated with a chronic medical condition. Rehabilitation is restoring a skill that was lost.

The commissioner called the original federal mandate that required all states to expand their Medicaid programs or lose all federal aid “blackmail.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that provision unconstitutional.

Georgia declined to expand Medicaid because taxes would have to be raised dramatically to cover the additional cost, he said.

Hudgens singled out Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville; who was sitting in the audience and asked him if he wanted to raise the state’s taxes.

“Not today,” Rogers replied.

“I didn’t think so,” Hudgens said. “I thought you wanted to be re-elected.”

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