By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Law under close watch
Changes draw mixed reaction
Placeholder Image
Forsyth County News
Love it or hate it, historic health care legislation was signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

And regardless of whether they support it, area hospitals and residents are paying close attention to the policies, which are expected to extend coverage to 32 million Americans without insurance.

The measure also requires Americans to buy insurance or face penalties. However, it also allocates money to families that earn as much as $88,000 to help pay for the insurance.

The law bans insurers from denying medical coverage due to pre-existing conditions. While it will cost an estimated $940 billion over the next decade, it also aims to cut deficits by an estimated $138 billion during that same time frame.

Officials with Northside Hospital, including its Forsyth location, have not issued any opinion on the measure. Spokeswoman Katherine Watson declined to comment on the matter.

As for North Fulton Hospital, Chief Development Officer Ron Henry called the measure “an important step forward.”

“It really gives caregivers important tools to improve the quality and delivery of patient care,” Henry  said. “As you look across our area and our region, you look at people that are unemployed, out of work are challenged by finding a job and have families. And COBRA, or their insurance, runs out and they currently would have nowhere to turn.

“I think the things the president is doing to shore up that risk is very positive.”

John Quinlivan, chief executive officer of Emory Johns Creek Hospital, described the measure “as a mixed bag.”

“Some good — covering uninsured, some good insurance regulations — and some bad — increased government involvement, speculative cost estimates,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Overall, the hospital is supportive of the measure, said Emory Johns Creek spokeswoman Johnel Reid, “at least in terms of the number 50 million Americans that are uninsured.”

“Finding a way to bridge that gap and insure that population is critical,” she said. “All hospitals know first hand the strain that the lack of insurance places on families, because hospitals are there when they turn to [someone] to care for them.”

Reid said hospitals were expected to contribute about $155 billion over a 10-year period to increase services. The money likely will balance out with the savings from expanded Medicare and Medicaid coverage.

“Costs will probably be the same,” she said. “When you’ve got more patients with insurance coverage, that increases efficiencies, reduces costs and improves outcomes in the hospital setting.”

Forsyth County resident Warren Henline said there are some good aspects, but overall, “I don’t think the bill is what we need.”

“I think if they had been up front and hit the highlights and high points and told us what it’s all about in reality, instead of keeping it close to the vest, we might have been able to have agreed with it better,” Henline said.

“The Democrats want to pass something to make it look good, and they’re not looking out for us. Our costs are going to go up, there’s no doubt about it.”

Henline, 70, said the plan may provide some fixes, like closing the Medicare prescription drug gap in coverage, but it likely won’t make a big difference for people like him, who don’t come near that point.

“It’s going to be those that are taking medications that are really expensive,” he said.

“I believe honestly that some doctors are going to bow out of Medicare, and that’s going to hurt a lot of seniors because we rely on those doctors. And if they cut us off, where do we go?”

Orthopedic surgeon Michael Hogan said he stopped seeing Medicare patients last year.

“I lost money with every patient I saw,” he said.

Medicare and Medicaid payments, Hogan said, cover only about 40 percent of what he billed for his patients, while private insurance companies tend to pay much more.

The new bill, he said, is “an absolute disaster.”

“It will destroy our economy, I’m convinced ... or we’ll be rationed and there will be things we just can’t get,” he said. “It’s just the first step. What they want is a government-controlled health care system.”

Neither the bill signed by Obama nor the House changes being reviewed by the Senate involve switching to a public option.

But Hogan said with more Medicare patients coming to private practices, “I don’t know how people will survive.”

“When you get down to it, the health care industry is a business,” he said. “If you can’t make a living, why would anybody like me take 14 years out of their life ... to pursue a career that’s going to make no more money than the guy who fixes your car and works a little bit of overtime. It takes the incentives right out of it.”

Hospitals don’t have the option to refuse patients based on health insurance.

Henry said the more people who are covered, the better for the community.

“This is something that will help our community,” he said. “I still think also we have a long way to go in that area, and this is a great start.”