Weeks before the Supreme Court weighs in on controversial national health care reform legislation, a panel of local medical experts weighed in on the potential impacts on the health system on Thursday night at Brenau University.
Avoiding the partisan arguments that typically accompany the debate, the panel largely gave mixed reviews to changes that could be coming down the pipe - noting that the current system is unhealthy but the prescribed reform will likely be painful.
"While some of it is very good and needed, a lot of it is a departure from what we're used to," said panelist Steve McNeilly, director of the Northeast Georgia Health Partners. That's an insurance preferred provider organization associated with the Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
The discussion was hosted by the university's College of Business & Mass Communication as the first in a speaker series to engage the public and business community.
In addition to McNeilly, the panel included Dr. Amanda Cain, an internal medicine physician, and Lynda Adams, a registered nurse. All three speakers are students completing their MBAs at Brenau while also working at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
The discussion, which offered the perspective of the insurance industry, hospital management and doctors, was a combination of forecasting changes, analyzing the current health care legislation and providing some tips on current trends.
All of the panelists agreed that the reason for reform was rocketing costs without the benefit of better service.
Cain said that 20 percent of U.S. GDP is consumed in health care. McNeilly said that system is the most expensive, but statistically doesn't have the best outcomes.
As part of his presentation, he showed the audience of about 60 a cartoon image of a patient saying, "My doctor told me to avoid any unnecessary stress, so I didn't open my hospital bill."
As a practical matter, McNeilly offered some tips to employers, who are seeing the costs of insuring employees rising. Among those recommendations were trying to encourage employees to engage in healthier behaviors and exploring insurance plans that offered Health Savings Accounts.
Adams talked about some of the positives and negatives the legislation would have on the system.
One of the potential good effects, she said, was increased mandates on provider accountability to get paid for Medicare services rendered.
"The impact can be very positive on the consumer," she said. "We are being forced to improve our quality, while at the same time lower cost."
But she also worried about the impacts of the legislation's goal of getting more patients access to care.
In the short term, she said, there may not be enough available services to handle the increased demand.
That was a point reiterated by Cain.
"Will access to health care improve as more individuals are covered and fewer physicians are available?" she asked. "No. I'm afraid it won't."
Cain, who recently left a private practice to join a group practice, was largely concerned with how the reform would affect doctors. She predicted the change could mean less doctor autonomy, as well as challenges for private practice doctors to stay in business.
The panel's discussion prompted a range of questions from the audience, which included Brenau students and other members of the community interested in the topic.
Audience members talked about everything from health care systems in France and Canada to whether an overload of pharmaceutical commercials was driving up the costs of prescription drugs.
The overall message of the discussion was that health care is evolving regardless of the fate of national health care legislation, but the picture of the future is still unclear for now.
"Until the Supreme Court decides and probably not until the (presidential) election, we're not going to know the outcome on this," McNeilly said.