Health officials look at new law

Published 12:19 am Tuesday, March 23, 2010

By By Kerry Whipple Bean

While one side celebrates and the other seethes over passage of a new healthcare bill, local health care professionals are looking at the reality of the new rules and how they will affect their businesses.
Pharmacist Danny Cottrell said he doesn’t see any immediate changes for most Americans, but many of the effects of the bill remain to be seen.
All of Alabama’s Congressional delegation — including two Democrats — voted against the bill, which would extend health coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans who do not have insurance; curb insurers’ practice of denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions; and require Americans to purchase health insurance or face penalties. Much of the bill’s cost — $940 billion over a decade — is expected to pay for subsidies to help families with incomes up to $88,000 pay for health insurance premiums.
President Barack Obama signed the bill into law Tuesday — and almost immediately 13 attorneys general, including Alabama’s Troy King, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legislation.
At issue for the attorneys general is the stipulation that all residents must purchase health care insurance or pay a fine.
The tenth amendment states that powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution are reserved for the states or to the people.
The bill also includes stipulations for businesses to provide health insurance to their employees. Larger businesses would be required to provide insurance; not doing so could result in a fine of $2,000 per employee. That money is expected to help fund subsidies for health insurance exchanges, which would be set up to help increase competition and lower costs for health insurance premiums.
Cottrell said he believes some businesses will opt out of providing insurance to employees.
But on the other hand, Cottrell said, small businesses would benefit from the legislation, because they would receive tax credits for offering health insurance.
Cottrell also said new rules on pre-existing conditions would be helpful.
D.W. McMillan Hospital CEO Chris Griffin said hospitals will be looking at the details in the bill to see how they can adjust to the changes. While Medicare funding will be cut, one thing that could help hospitals, he said, is that there will be more people with some ability to pay for health care if more people are insured.
For senior citizens, there will be some immediate relief on prescription drug costs. In the short term, seniors who reach the so-called “donut hole” — when they exhaust their Medicare prescription allowance but have not reached the limit to begin receiving catastrophic prescription coverage — will receive rebates this year. By 2020, that “donut hole” is to be eliminated. Cottrell said he sees many patients caught in that hole each year.
And Cottrell said that while many of the effects of the bill remain to be seen, he advised that people look beyond the politics of the measure.

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