Patient-centered care, an increased emphasis on wellness and developing a reliable, lower-cost system are key factors in making the Affordable Care Act work for consumers and businesses, according to Mark A. Frey, president and CEO of Alexian Brothers Health System.
"We have to develop a more reliable health care system," said Frey, who joined a panel of four national and local experts who explained key components of the implementation and impact of the Affordable Care Act Wednesday at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center.
Frey believes the country is heading in the right direction when it comes to health care. "I have to say the next four years will be a challenge. But for the first time in my career I have seen the changes put in place to revolutionize health care," he said.
About 200 business owners and leaders from suburban companies of all sizes attended the session sponsored by Alexian Brothers and the Daily Herald Media Group. Laurie Stone, founding president of the Schaumburg Business Association and a Harper College trustee, served as the moderator for the event titled "Affordable Care Act: The Road to 2014 and Beyond."
"The nation is divided on the Affordable Care Act. We need to educate people," said Mary Ella Payne, senior vice president of policy & system legislative leadership at Ascension Health. One of the biggest challenges is to get everyone into the health care system, she said, adding that nearly 48 million non-elderly Americans were uninsured in 2011.
Based in Washington, D.C., she finds that small businesses across the country are the segment that will be most greatly affected by the upcoming health care changes. Area businesses are struggling with an array of issues including how part-time and seasonal employees fit into the plan. Full-time employment is generically defined as an employee working 30 hours or more a week. Under the new laws, a small business is defined as a company with fewer than 50 employees.
Up until now, many companies were taking a "wait and see" approach with the Affordable Care Act, said Angela Adams, director of human resource services at The Management Association, based in Downers Grove. Now, companies are planning to comply, but need some help figuring things out, she said.
The three main issues many local companies are asking about are the cost, which employees they have to cover and the ramifications if they don't provide the proper health coverage. "The rules are changing every day, so it's tough," Adams said.
Small businesses continue to struggle with the soaring cost of health insurance, said Rhett Buttle, national outreach and government affairs director at Small Business Majority in Washington, D.C. He said his group's studies show that 28 percent of the self-employed are not covered and that small firms pay 18 percent more than large businesses for health insurance.
With the new law, employers are wondering if they should continue offering the same insurance they have in the past or instead send employees to shop for their own policies through an exchange, a competitive marketplace for individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance. The exchanges are expected to be operating by Jan. 1, 2014, said panelist Melinda J. Dutton, who serves as a partner with the health care division of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, a law firm in New York, N.Y.
The exchanges are designed to provide individuals and businesses a "one stop shop" to compare and buy health insurance. The concept is to provide consumers with more control and greater transparency in making their choices about health insurance. "The bottom line is to make it easier to shop for and enroll in health insurance," she said.
Dutton addressed how businesses can get tax credits and what type of penalties they could face if they do not offer insurance that employees can afford. If the insurance price is less than 9.5 percent of an employee's gross income, it is considered affordable, she said.
Following the panel discussion, audience members had dozens of questions, including how physicians feel about the law. "Some physicians are very nervous. We are working with them to see what makes the most sense," Payne said.
Members of the audience said they found the information helpful. Kim Cummuta, who works in accounting in Itasca, said she learned the most from the question-and-answer segment of the program.
"The entire program was very engaging," said Rhonda Pokoj of Schaumburg Bank & Trust. "There were people from companies of all sizes at my table. It's a very timely topic that affects everyone," she said.
Chris Grooms of Grooms Insurance in Lake Zurich agreed. "It was very educational. The speakers presented a good cross section of information."