The 2013 BCA Healthcare Conference concludes after dynamic presentations and Obamacare explanations

HOOVER – The Business Council of Alabama’s successful two-day Healthcare Forum of 2013 concluded Wednesday with an informative speech by the architect of President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 along party lines by a divided Congress.

Nancy-Ann DeParle, Obama’s former deputy chief of staff for policy and the architect of his healthcare reform effort, waived off predictions of dire consequences under full implementation of the president’s signature action commonly known as Obamacare.“Take a deep breath, it’s going to be okay,” DeParle told a luncheon attended by about 90 BCA members and guests. “It doesn’t nationalize the health care system.”

Other speakers outlined new costs, taxes, and fees associated with the full impact of the law that requires most Americans to possess health insurance and businesses to offer it to most employees. “Taxes are going up,” predicted Mark Baker, a CPA and principal with Jackson Thornton.

President Obama recently delayed by one year the deadline for certain employers to provide insurance or face penalties from Jan. 1, as the law requires, to Jan. 1, 2015, which is after the November 2014 mid-term congressional elections.

“The employer mandate is harming the workforce,” said Jennifer Pierotti, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s manager of health care policy. “Everyone is trying to figure out how this affects employers.”

A Chamber business outlook survey that concluded July 8 said businesses expect the mandate requiring most employers to offer health insurance to “negatively impact their employees.”

The survey said that 27 percent of businesses surveyed plan to cut hours to reduce full-time employees, 24 percent will reduce hiring, and 23 percent plan to replace full-time employees working 30 hours or more per week with part-time workers to avoid triggering the mandate.

“The biggest obstacle to hiring is the health care law,” Pierotti said.

The U.S. Chamber estimates that over 10 years the health care law will result in nearly $836 billion in new taxes, fees, and the loss of income tax deductions. “We’re at a scary place,” Pierotti said.

Several speakers said that many of the regulations have not been explained or printed and that some provisions seemed to change daily. “If you are not confused you are not paying attention,” said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary.

The Business Council of Alabama supports repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act but in the interim supports the one-year delay of the Jan. 1 deadline for businesses to comply.

Obama did not delay the individual mandate but the U.S. House voted symbolically Wednesday to delay it. Beginning Oct. 1, individuals currently without health insurance may start shopping for health insurance on exchanges set up for that purpose. Individuals without insurance must purchase it by Jan. 1.

The House voted 251-174 to delay the individual mandate deadline to Jan. 1, 2015. The House also voted 264-161 to delay the ACA’s employer mandate by one year. Since the Senate is controlled by Democrats, it’s virtually certain the Senate will not support the House vote.

The two-day conference at the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa in Hoover was sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Drummond Co. Inc., Pfizer, Sanofi US, and St. Vincent’s Health System.

In addition to explanations of the financial impact of the ACA, the conference included advice for employers on how to manage certain medical conditions including pain medication control, advice on wellness and prevention, a diabetes seminar, and Medicaid’s new regional care organizations.

State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson spoke Tuesday on a revamped Alabama Medicaid agency, the combined state-federal health insurance plan for low income families with children, the poor, elderly, blind and disabled.

Williamson said the number of Alabamians on Medicaid can be reduced by an expanding economy that  employs some of the estimated 940,000 who currently qualify for Medicaid, slowing the need for additional state appropriations.

John O’Neil, St. Vincent’s President and CEO, said graduating from high school will keep many from needing Medicaid. “The best Medicaid program in the world is creating jobs and economic opportunity,” he said.

-Dana Beyerle