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Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 1:29pm

Georgia Chamber Hosts Healthcare Conference

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce held a conference Wednesday to address upcoming changes to the healthcare industry because of the Affordable Care Act.

The insurance mandate included in the law will go into effect on January 1, 2014. That leaves just six months for employers and individuals to research their insurance options.

“We are in a period of unprecedented change here in healthcare and we’re all going to have to work together to navigate this unfamiliar landscape,” said David Cook, Georgia’s outgoing Department of Community Health Commissioner.

The Chamber invited members of the state’s healthcare, insurance and business communities to take part in three panels about the Affordable Care Act.

Marilyn Tavenner, the new administrator for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, also addressed the group. She said the law will help small companies find more affordable options for employee health coverage and it will help individuals take ownership of their own health coverage.

“This may not be the perfect plan, but it is a plan and it’s a plan that’s going forward and it will only be successful if I have the help and support of folks like you,” said Tavenner.

Insurance providers, however, said the cost of insurance has gone up in the last few years and they anticipate more increases because of the new law.

“You look at it in theory, health care reform really should bring costs down,” said Al Ertel, COO of Alliant Health Plans.

Ertel pointed out that under the law, however, rates for the highest-age patients cannot be more than three times higher than rates for the lowest-age patients.

“Well, what that means, to get the same amount of dollars in the pool, rates are going to go down slightly for older folks and the younger, more enviable risk, those rates are going to go up significantly,” explained Ertel.

He called this “cost-shifting.” A similar problem is happening in hospitals, where patients who do not have insurance drive costs up for others. Medical professionals said even those people covered by Medicaid and Medicare put hospitals in the red because the federal government only reimburses care providers for a percentage of their medical expenses.

“The problem is for hospitals these under and uninsured patients are sicker because they don’t take their high blood pressure medicine and they don’t seek the preventative care, and so you’re filling your hospital up with patients that are losing money,” said Kim Ryan, CEO of Eastside Medical Center in Gwinnett County. “It’s a very big problem.”

Members of the medical community agreed that insurance reform alone will not solve the country’s healthcare issues.

“It’s time for us as providers to stop blaming the insurance companies as the problem or all the uninsured patients or even the business community or the state government or the federal government. There’s enough blame to go around the whole system,” said Jimmy Childre, CEO of Washington County Regional Medical Center. “What we have today is probably an unsustainable system and we’ve got to figure out how to restructure it.”

Beginning October 1, those looking for coverage can go online to compare the different insurance options available.

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