Panelists say health reform a work in progress for businesses
10/17/2013 - The Herald-Dispatch. By Jean Tarbett Hardiman.
HUNTINGTON - Little did the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce know when it planned to focus its annual Legislative Luncheon on the new federal health care legislation that it would be a pivotal issue affecting a federal government shutdown.
What it did know, said Chamber President and CEO Cathy Burns, is that businesses were eager to learn as much as possible about the Affordable Care Act and that they needed information to make sound economic decisions for their businesses.
So on Wednesday, the Chamber brought in some policy-makers and health insurance experts to speak to the business community for A View from the Capitol Annual Legislative Luncheon.
Guest speakers included moderator Evan Jenkins, a state senator and executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association, as well as panelists Don Perdue, a delegate from Wayne County and chairman of the House committee on Health and Human Resources, Dr. James Becker, medical director for the West Virginia Bureau for Medical Services over Medicaid, and Jospeh Letnaunchyn, president and CEO of the West Virginia Hospital Association.
"We knew how controversial this (law) would be, but this timing is unique," Burns said. What's important, she said, is giving the business community an opportunity for some discussion with experts and policy-makers, so they can be on top of the latest information and proactive within their companies.
"Today, what I heard is that there are so many layers to all this," she said.
As of Oct. 1, there were 246,000 uninsured West Virginians, said Perdue, a former pharmacist who is also executive director of the Wayne County Economic Development Authority.
"Actuaries predict that by 2016 that number will be reduced by 70 percent -- 170,000 newly insured West Virginians," he said.
West Virginia now leads the nation per capita in number of people already signed up as Medicaid eligible, Perdue said.
Uncompensated care is projected to be around $300 million this year and expected to be reduced dramatically as more West Virginians are Medicaid eligible, he said, and more than 6,000 new jobs are expected in West Virginia by 2016 as the Medicaid expansion occurs.
"The Medicaid expansion will save businesses $6 million in penalties they do not have to pay," Perdue said. "Employers who do not provide either affordable or minimal value coverage will pay a penalty of $3,000 per employee if the employee goes to the marketplace and receives a tax credit. There is no penalty at all if the employee qualifies for Medicaid. Without the expansion, many more employees would be getting the tax credit instead of Medicaid."
Under the Affordable Care Act, uninsured West Virginians who don't have an employer plan and are ineligible for a government plan can purchase private plans offered in a Health Insurance Marketplace, a new agency operated jointly by the West Virginia and federal governments. Only one insurer, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, provides insurance plans in West Virginia's marketplace, offering 12 qualified insurance plans, but it's likely that there will be more insurance companies on board next year, Becker said.
It's not possible now to tell how many West Virginians have enrolled because of the federal government's involvement and the partial shutdown.
To encourage individuals to sign up for plans, the West Virginia Hospital Association has pursued a marketing campaign, Letnaunchyn said.
There are a lot of facets of the law that have yet to be spelled out, he said, and hospitals are facing $32 million in payment reductions in these early years of the law's implementation. That's a big hit for companies that employ 40,000 West Virginians, he said. But having more West Virginians covered will ultimately be a positive development for the hospitals, he said. He added that there is a concern that certain pockets of the state will not have enough health care providers to give the newly insured a place to go.
Perdue said he believes the law certainly has flaws but that they'll be addressed over time and a better product "will be revealed inside the oyster, both nationwide and here in West Virginia," he said.
"I think we have to look at today as a time of opportunity," Becker said, comparing this transition with West Virginia's privatization of worker's compensation -- a challenging situation that was a good development in the long run.
"It's an example of when you make a plan and stick to the plan, you can change things," he said. "...When all people get together and work together, you can make a difference."
He likes that, under the new law, low-wage workers who take on those small, low-paying jobs will have opportunities for coverage where they didn't before. He also likes that in West Virginia, there will be copays for Medicaid recipients so they do have some investment in their own health. He urged small businesses to learn about the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) to learn about coverage possibilities for their employees.
There's much to learn about it all, said Debbie Birthisel, executive director at Green Acres Regional Center in Lesage. "We're a small company. This is helpful to try to find the most economic plan you can for your employees."
The Chamber has another event focused on the new healthcare legislation, titled "Why Employers Should Care About Affordable Care: What You Need to Know Now." It's planned for 8:30 to 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 8, at HIMG's Community Room. Hosted by Jamie Leary of Huddleston Bolen, PLLC, the event is free to Chamber members. RSVP by calling 304-525-5131.