Health experts brief Northern Va. business leaders on ‘Obamacare’
Cutting through the rhetoric and pinpointing what the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act means for businesses was the aim Nov. 16 of a Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce health care reform panel.
Themed “Health Care Reform: What Is Next and How It Will Impact Your Business,” the discussion of the act, commonly called Obamacare, featured regional experts William Hazel, Virginia’s secretary of Health and Human Resources, Bridget Bean, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and Joanne Corte Grossi, an Obama administration-appointed regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The timely talk, coming just 10 days after President Barack Obama’s re-election, featured sometimes-contentious back-and-forth between Hazel and Corte Grossi.
Hazel, a member of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s cabinet, spent much of his speaking time questioning where the money would come from for the law’s mandate on expanded coverage.
Moreover, how are health insurance costs going to drop unless the cost of services is reduced, Hazel asked.
“Unless health care ultimately costs less, paying less for your insurance means somebody else is paying more,” Hazel said. ” ... There is nothing free in this.”
Corte Grossi had a different view. She said the whole point of the Affordable Care Act is to bend the cost curve by providing a larger pool of insured Americans. She pointed out the Congressional Budget Office estimates the nation will save $100 billion over the next decade.
“We’re really trying to make true systematic change to the system,” Corte Grossi said, noting the creation of programs within the Health and Human Services intended to spur innovation in the health and wellness industry.
Corte Grossi said nothing will change for small businesses until 2014, when businesses with 50 employees or more will be mandated to provide coverage.
For 2013, the law primarily affects state governments, Corte Grossi said.
When state health insurance exchanges – competitive marketplaces where either individuals or businesses can purchase insurance – are implemented, the average family will save more than $2,000 per year on their insurance plan.
Through Obamacare, states have the option to either establish their own exchanges or defer to the federal government or form a state-federal partnership.
Bean offered another perspective. Businesses need to be encouraging healthy lifestyles for their employees – partnering with local gyms, wellness initiatives at work, making sure employees aren’t smoking.
Corte Grossi agreed, saying that healthy lifestyles alone will save billions nationwide in health care costs. Obesity and smoking-related health problems cost the health care system more than $300 billion per year, she said.
Obamacare also pushes for an expansion of Medicaid, with an estimated 425,000 additional Virginians qualifying for the state-run health program.
Hazel expressed doubt the state would be able to fund the expansion and Obamacare mandates, but Corte Grossi was quick to note the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and 90 percent of the bill from 2020 on.
As for whether Virginia will set up its own health care exchange or leave it in the hands of the federal government, or strike a hybrid partnership, Hazel didn’t have a clear answer.
Bean, the U.S. Small Business Administration director, said her organization will hold a series of educational programs for small businesses in the year ahead to help them prepare and keep up to speed on the new laws.
“[Obama] may not be perfect,” Bean said, “but if we don’t start doing this now, we’ll be worse than we are today. And it is a place to start with specific guidelines, and again, to help small businesses, families and individuals have access to affordable health care.”