Arlington Heights-based Northwest Community Hospital expects a gradual increase in the demand for the services of primary care doctors as the Affordable Care Act unfolds, a hospital executive said Wednesday.
The demand "will build over time," said Michael Hartke, the hospital's chief operating officer. "For us, in our marketplace, it won't be immediate, but it will go up gradually," Hartke said.
Whether that translates into more acquisitions of physician groups or other care providers by the hospital is yet to be seen, he said.
Hartke was among a panel of experts who discussed the Affordable Care Act and what it means to local small- and mid-sized businesses and to the local health care industry. About 240 business executives, chamber officials and other professionals attended the program hosted by the Daily Herald Media Group at Chandler's Chop House in Schaumburg.
Other speakers included Mark W. Everson, former commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service; Mark Lam, vice president of benefits compliance at Assurance in Schaumburg; Brian Cheney, senior director of exchange markets for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois in Chicago; Kyle Vroegh, a CPA with Porte Brown LLC in Tinley Park; and Angela Adams, director of HR services at Management Association in Downers Grove.
Hartke said hospitals and other medical providers will need to focus more on efficiency, a higher level of value and care for the patient and post-hospital support to avoid readmissions. That's because hospitals will face penalties if patients who are released are then subsequently readmitted for the same illness or problem, he said.
"Hospitals will be graded on their quality and efficiency and patient satisfaction and how well we delivered that promise to the community," he said.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, includes a schedule for employers on when they need to provide access to health insurance for employees. Also, those who lack employer-provided insurance can go to public exchanges or marketplaces to get insurance. Those exchanges are expected to open Oct. 1 while insurance should go into effect by Jan. 1.
Much of the discussion Wednesday focused on how the new law will affect business operations and the impact on health care industries in years to come.
Whether Obamacare will work despite its complexities is still a major concern for many, said Everson, formerly of the IRS. He said it's unclear whether penalties will be effective in encouraging employers to provide insurance and whether small employers will reduce their workforces to avoid providing insurance.
"There's a great diversity of thought, and politically there are two parties that are locked in the thinking that they are one election victory away from dominating the debate," Everson said.
Adams said her Management Association's survey found only 16 percent of respondents said they fully understand the new law. Another 62 percent mostly understand it and another 21 percent need a lot of help with it.
"There's still a vast majority who need more information. You're not alone," she told the audience.
Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the insurance providers participating in a number of exchanges, has been setting up kiosks around various communities to provide more information to individuals, reaching out more to physicians and partnering more with so-called navigators, who are supposed to help guide the uninsured through the process of buying insurance, said Cheney, of BCBS.
"There's confusion at every single level and there's an absolute need for more information about the act," Cheney said.
The full impact of the law likely won't be felt by businesses and the health care industry for another two years to three years, Cheney said.
"It probably won't be until 2014 through 2016 until we likely will see what it all looks like," he said.
The program sponsors also included Assurance, Porte Brown LLC and Northwest Community Healthcare along with partners GOA Regional Business Association, Management Association, Small Business Advocacy Council, Schaumburg Business Association and Arlington Heights, Elk Grove, Hoffman Estates, Itasca, Mount Prospect and Rolling Meadows chambers of commerce.