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Forum addresses health care reform





Questions about the Affordable Care Act were fielded Wednesday by a panel well-versed in insurance during a forum sponsored by the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development and Hays Area Chamber of Commerce.

Sandy Praeger, Kansas insurance commissioner, was joined on the panel by Steven Robino, director of policy and compliance for Coventry Health Care; Matt All, general counsel leading a marketplace task force for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas; and Treena Mason, regional sales and marketing manager for BCBS of Kansas.

More than 80 area residents representing a cross-section of professions from health care to manufacturing, attended the forum to explore questions about the ACA, enacted into law March 23, 2010. The law was intended to address cost, quality of care and gaps in insurance coverage.

Praeger acknowledged the uncertainty many businesses are experiencing as they prepare for changes set for January 2014. All added that in years to come, the ACA will be considered the "new normal."

"Right now, there's a lot of doubt, and rightly so," All said. "We're going to get through this. And five years from now, when it falls together, I think we'll all feel better about it."

He said there is reason for optimism going forward based on efforts of Praeger and "solid companies" throughout the state.

One issue Praeger addressed at Wednesday's forum was the law's effect on small businesses.

Under the law, approximately 50,000 Kansas small businesses will not be required to provide coverage for their employees. The law does, however, offer small companies of less than 25 full-time employees a tax credit if they pay at least half the cost of their employees' health insurance coverage.

Praeger said an uncertainty exists about whether Kansas will enter into a state-based health insurance exchange. Without a state-based exchange, the federal government will control the exchange.

"We have been working diligently on creating a blueprint for how a partnership will operate in Kansas," Praeger said. "Our goal is to preserve as much authority as we can at the state level."

Overall, Americans are not receiving the value they should for health care services, she said. And rising health care costs cannot be tackled only through enactment of the ACA alone.

"We need a better integrated system so that physicians and hospitals can work together to deliver that integrated care," she said. "We're talking about continuum of care.

"So hospitals, for example, deliver care that doesn't end at the hospital walls. ... It extends out into the community and follows that patient home to ensure they have that support system there that can help them in their postoperative care."

Currently, Praeger said, there is no payment structure in place that encourages providers to deliver coordinated care.

"Delivering care in a more coordinated fashion is a better process from a patient's standpoint," she said. "That's the appropriate way to bring costs down."

For those interested in data that analyzes trends and underlying causes of changes in health insurance coverage, access to care and use of health care by Americans, statistics are available at healthpolicycenter.org.