April 16, 2014

Alliant VP: Problematic Obamacare here to stay

Misty Watson

— It no longer matters what a person’s opinion is of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. because it has already passed Congress and is now in place, said Mark Mixer, vice president of Alliant Health Plans.

“I just worry about implementing it,” Mixer said during the Whitfield Healthcare Foundation’s Hamilton Business Alliance breakfast forum on Wednesday. Alliant is a Dalton-based not-for-profit provider of health insurance.

The goal of the act was to insure, at minimum, 32 million people who were uninsured, Mixer said. The problem is it’s hard to gauge whether individuals utilizing the marketplace under the law were those previously uninsured or if their employers dropped group insurance, leaving them responsible for their own insurance, he said.

“It was predicted it would slow down the cost of health care,” Mixer said. “I don’t think we’ve seen that yet.”

Approximately 7.5 million people have enrolled in health care plans through the government’s marketplace, but that number doesn’t indicate whether those people have actually paid for their plan, Mixer said. So the number of insured could be much lower.

“We have had about 40 percent of those who chose us that never paid,” he said. “We never heard from them.”

Though efforts from the Republican Party to get rid of the law are likely to continue, Mixer believes the law is here to stay.

“Once something passes and it becomes law, it won’t become undone,” he said. “My biggest problem is I don’t know how people will continue to afford it. I just don’t.”

Mixer called the law a “cost-shifting problem.” He said it’s a result of a system that had been created over several decades.

“Think about this from a premium standpoint,” Mixer said. “The average is $500 per person. When you add that to a family situation, you’re looking at a house payment. As long as employers provide the majority of the coverage, it is swept under the carpet and you don’t pay attention to it. But now an individual is responsible for it. Employers can no longer afford it. They shift it to the individual. If the company that can deduct it can’t afford it, the individuals can’t afford it.

“Pray you don’t fall through the crack because you can’t meet $1,000 premiums. ... I don’t have a solution for that. I don’t think it’s a one-sentence explanation.”

Jeff Myers, president and CEO of Hamilton Health Care System, said Hamilton Medical Center is a community, not-for-profit hospital and will continue to operate that way.

“The challenge is to be the best we can to take care of our community’s needs,” Myers said. “The bar is just getting higher with the elements to make that happen. The mandate changes day to day and we have to be able to keep up with it.”

Officials continue to renovate and expand the facility. Myers said there are 18 physicians that have been recruited in the last couple of years. The neonatal intensive care unit is now a level III, which means it can accept and care for babies born at 28 weeks gestation. Babies are admitted from several surrounding counties. The intensive care unit will be expanded from 10 to 14 beds, and the cardiac catheterization labs have been expanded and new equipment added.

Myers said officials are beginning to see the hospital as a regional facility.

“We’ll continue providing the best care we possibly can,” he said. “We’re doing a good job with it and we’ll continue to do better. ... We’re not the Hamilton of the past. We’ve got to be the Hamilton of the future. We’re retaining work that has historically had to go to Chattanooga. That is meaningful for our community.”