Federal health care reforms will bring insurance coverage to than 32 million uninsured, but could cost some businesses more money, health care and insurance experts said during a panel discussion Friday at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.
About 30 people gathered at the monthly “Focus Friday” issues session examining the effects of federal health care reforms on businesses.
Tanya Blackmon, president of Presbyterian Hospital Huntersville, told the group that while many businesses may have reservations, the goal of the act is to increase the number of people with access to better health care. She also noted that the U.S. currently spends more on health care than any other country, yet ranks behind 18 other industrialized countries in “medically preventable deaths.”
“We think we’ll have better health care,” she said, describing how the hospital already is adjusting its practices, trimming waste and improving its services. At least part of the impetus for that, she acknowledged, is declining payments from Medicare and other federal programs. Hospitals also are shifting to electronic medical records, to improve service and tracking.
Speakers said the reforms do have some benefits. They already allow young people to remain on parents’ insurance plans through age 26. And they require coverage for children under age 18 who have pre-existing conditions.
Some employers will see their costs rise under the changes, but others could see their costs drop as well.
Kenny Colbert, president of The Employers Association, outlined how the changes will affect businesses of varying sizes, and said all employers should be getting ready now for what’s coming. He said while some polls show that half the country opposes the reforms, “it’s going to happen.”
He said there’s an opportunity here for businesses, “a chance to take a hard look at their policies and procedures.” Companies will have to figure out how the law affects them and in some cases, decide whether to continue with their private insurers or send employees into the new Health Benefits Exchanges being set up in the states. He and other speakers noted that some businesses could save money by dropping their health insurance benefits: The tax or penalty for doing so could well be less than the cost of offering private insurance. Employees then would buy insurance in the exchange.
Brian Flynn, president of Group Benefit Solutions in Davidson, told business people in the room they shouldn’t wait to begin examining how the law affects them. “You have two (health insurance) renewals between now and 2014,” a key deadline for employers. “You need to develop some sort of plan … by meeting with your adviser and having a clear understanding,” Mr. Flynn said.
Businesses will have to determine if their current health plans comply with the law. Under the new rules, employers with more than 50 full-time employees must offer insurance coverage, or pay a penalty or tax for not doing so. Penalties also will be assessed if plans don’t meet the standards for coverage and costs in the Affordable Care Act, he said. Penalties start at $2,000 per employee per year. A qualified plan under the new law must pay at least 60 percent of allowed charges and not cost more than 9.5 percent of an employee’s household income, according to annual income tax returns.
Tracy Baker, chief executive officer of Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas Inc. (formerly WellPath Select Inc.), has been working on a task force in North Carolina to help the state decide how to implement the reforms. He said the state is facing an important deadline this Nov. 16, deciding whether to set up their own Health Benefits Exchanges, or let the federal government do so. (Exchanges are online marketplaces where consumers can compare and choose insurance plans that meet the federal standards.)
In North Carolina, Mr. Baker said, the Republican-controlled legislature has not yet passed a bill that would allow the state to set up its own exchange. Republican-controlled lawmakers in other states have done the same, he said, perhaps out of “defiance” of the reforms supported by President Obama.
The inaction will result in states’ losing the ability to control their own future with that part of the reforms. “You can either be on the train, or you can watch the train go by. And right now, a lot of the states are gonna watch the train go by,” and let the federal government run their systems, he said.
Focus Friday is a free monthly program for Lake Norman Chamber members and the public. Focus Friday is sponsored by DavidsonNews.net and CorneliusNews.net.
Aug. 24, 2012, Brian Flynn’s presentation at Focus Friday, “Health Care Reform: What Does It Mean for Employers?” (PDF)
Aug. 24, 2012, Tanya Blackmon’s presentation at Focus Friday, “Healthcare Reform: What It Means to Our Community” (PDF)
Lake Norman Chamber website, lakenormanchamber.org
HealthCare.gov, federal government web page with a timeline for implementation of the affordable care act.
White House Health Reform website, www.whitehouse.gov/healthreform/downloads – how the reforms affect specific age groups, businesses and other groups
Health Reform: The Basics, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, healthreform.kff.org/The-Basics.aspx
The Health Care Law and You, on HealthCare.gov
Affordable Care Act Overview, from American Public Health Organization (2-pg PDF chart)