The healthcare industry in South Florida, like the rest of the country, faces huge challenges in the year ahead as major federal reforms kick in, experts told about 700 people at a University of Miami conference on Friday.
We are at a critical time in health policy, said Mark McClellan, former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. There are going to be some bumps along the way, especially starting in 11 months, when the biggest changes in the Affordable Care Act kick in.
Bumps may be understating what we may go through, said Patrick Geraghty, chief executive of Florida Blue, the states largest health insurer.
They spoke at the conference on the Business of Healthcare Post-Election. The speakers accepted the federal reforms often referred to as Obamacare as not only inevitable but necessary. As Tom Daschele, a former Democratic U.S. senator from South Dakota, put it, having 50 million uninsured is just unacceptable.
But the reform act, signed into law in 2010, contains more than 2,000 pages, plus thousands of pages more of enabling regulations details that will have major, and perhaps unexpected, impacts on the healthcare industry, which now makes up almost 20 percent of the nations economy.
In October, insurance exchanges will open for enrollment groups that will allow individuals and small businesses to purchase policies with no exclusions for pre-existing conditions. Starting next January, virtually everyone will be required to have insurance, Medicaid will expand in many states, and businesses with more than 50 full-time equivalent employees will be required to provide insurance or pay fines.
Jan. 1 is a very significant date, said Steven Ulllmann, director of health policy programs at the UM business school. He called reforms a process that will change over time.
The one thing we know is that healthcare reform will be reformed, said Chris Jennings, a Washington health policy advisor for the Clinton administration and three senators.
Karen Ignagni, president of Americas Health Insurance Plans, the insurers trade group, said she had strong ideas about tweaks that could minimize disruption. One arcane, but crucial provision of the law requires that an older persons policy can be no more than three times as expensive as a young persons.
The provision will mean huge increases in the policies of younger persons, to pay for the much higher costs of their elders. Insurers are asking for that policy to be postponed for two years, retaining the present maximum spread of about five to one, so that younger people could sign up for insurance without huge sticker shock.
For example, if a 25-year-old pays $100 and a 60-year-old pays $500, the new rule would hike the younger persons premium to $150 and cut the older persons premium to $450 a 50 percent increase for one and a 10 percent decrease for the other.
The thinking of lawmakers was that by lowering ratio, the costs of healthcare would be spread out and shared more equally by the population.
Anne Phelps, a healthcare principal with Ernst & Young, said she favored another change in the law, which now requires that next year a company with the equivalent of 50 employees to provide insurance for anyone working more than 30 hours a week or pay a fine. She thought the threshold should be raised to 32 or 34 hours.