State officials: Health care reform likely to stick around

TUPELO – Health care reform is getting closer, and it’s unlikely to be derailed, according to state insurance commissioner Mike Chaney and hospital executive Gerald Wages.
Chaney and Wages gave their take on health care to 250 business and medical community leaders Thursday during the 15th annual Managed Care Conference in Tupelo.
“Even if you repeal all of health care reform, you can’t stop the changes,” said Wages, who is the hospital’s executive vice president and serves on the board of directors for the American Hospital Association. “We have to do something about the cost.”
The Mississippi Insurance Department is moving ahead with plans to create a voluntary health insurance exchange even as challenges to the federal health care reform act and its mandated insurance provision are challenged.
“It’s going to end up in the Supreme Court,” said Chaney, noting that one appeals court has upheld the law and another has deemed it unconstitutional.
Mississippi opted to create its own health insurance exchange to retain local control and “Mississippi is ahead of the curve,” Chaney said, noting that only one other Southern state has picked up that challenge.
At this point, work is moving ahead to create the structure that will allow individuals to compare plans side by side and purchase coverage and meet 2013 and 2014 deadlines.
“It’s not a silver bullet for managing health care costs,” Chaney said. “It is a critical component for expanding coverage.”
Both Wages and Chaney said they believe at least some provisions of health care reform law will clear judicial hurdles. But because rapidly escalating costs threaten to bankrupt Medicare as well as the competitive position of businesses in the international market, reform of some kind is necessary.
An American Hospital Association-led initiative identified five key issues that health care will have to address going forward: wellness; efficient, affordable care; higher quality care; better information; and health care coverage for all, paid for by all.
Health care reform legislation addresses some of those issues, Wages said. Medicare and Medicaid are preparing to create incentives that will pay bonuses to providers who hit quality and efficient care benchmarks.
However, it’s not clear where the resources will come from to provide the subsidies to help people buy insurance, Wages said.
Even with the challenges, it’s important to keep perspective, Wages said.
“The future looks daunting,” Wages said. “But 30 years ago, it looked daunting, too, and we got through it.”
In 1982, Medicare changed the way it paid doctors and hospitals from covering any cost to paying a fixed cost per procedure. The cycle repeated itself in the 1990s with managed care.
“We thought it would put us all out of business, but we adapted,” Wages said.
michaela.morris@journalinc.com

Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal