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Uncertainty remains after Supreme Court's health care ruling

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

While the Supreme Court's ruling provided some certainty regarding the fate of health insurance reform, those affected by the law locally say some unknowns remain. The court on June 28 ruled it is constitutional for the federal government to require most Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.

While reactions have been mixed and politically charged, the insurance industry seems to have accepted many of the forthcoming changes, said Gene Stramel of Insurance Planning in Hays. Stramel said one of the biggest benefits he expects from the new law is the ability for people to obtain health coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions.

"I deal with it day in and day out. I see first-hand what people are struggling with," he said. "I hear the politics side of everything, why we shouldn't have it, why we should have it. But I deal with people who are frustrated, who can't get (insurance) because of a health condition."

It already is illegal to deny coverage to children with health conditions, and a provision in the law prohibiting pre-existing condition exclusions for adults takes effect in 2014. For now, people who are denied private insurance coverage are referred to a plan available through the Kansas Health Insurance Association. That plan, however, isn't cheap, Stramel said.

"It's very, very expensive," he said. "A lot of people can't afford it."

Even with the Supreme Court's ruling, there still are some uncertainties as to how the overhaul could affect Stramel's daily work, he said.

"I get emails from (Kathleen) Sebelius' office about every day about things that are happening," Stramel said. "There's still stuff coming down that we don't know what is going to happen."

Uncertainty still seems to be a major concern, especially among local business owners. Tammy Wellbrock, executive director of the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, said it seems many are scrambling to understand how the law could affect their businesses.

"We at the chamber are aware that our members are confused and are trying to seek better understanding of what this new mandate means for them and their businesses," she said. "We are going to explore whatever we can here at the chamber to try to provide more resources."

The law provides tax credits to businesses with fewer than 25 employees that choose to offer health insurance and pay a certain percentage of premium costs. Businesses with more than 50 employees that choose not to offer qualifying insurance will face penalties.

Administrators at Hays Medical Center began analyzing the massive piece of legislation even before Congress approved it in March 2010.

"The Supreme Court with their upholding of the health care act, it really just brought certainty to the law," said Shae Veach, vice president of regional operations. "Over two years ago when this all came about, we developed strategies to comply with the law and now it just definitely provides certainty to it."

With one hurdle down in terms of the future of health care financing, another big question remains.

Veach said staff now is paying close attention to Medicaid reform efforts on a state level.

Regardless of what happens, Veach said HaysMed will comply with federal and state regulations, but caring for patients will remain priority No. 1.

"Our focus has never really wavered," he said. "Quality, safety, efficiency and affordable health care is what we always focused on."