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Published on March 11, 2012

Gene Meyer Joins National Experts on Health Care Reform

Lawrence Memorial Hospital CEO and President Gene Meyer talks about his concerns regarding the Affordable Care Act during a panel discussion Sunday, March 11, 2012, at Plymouth Congregational Church.

Read Karrey Britt’s complete article

Len Nichols, a national expert in health care policy, said although the federal government passed and signed into law the Affordable Care Act two years ago, it is far from a done deal.

He believes the Supreme Court will not rule the entire bill as unconstitutional this summer, and therefore, its fate will be determined during this year’s presidential election. That’s when the bill could be erased or changed.
“We are divided as a nation. We’ve reached an impasse,” he said. “We will know a lot more in January than we do now.”
Nichols, director of the Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics at George Mason University, spoke about federal health reform Sunday afternoon during a 90-minute program at Plymouth Congregational Church in downtown Lawrence that was attended by about 100 people.
Nichols said the Affordable Care Act is about getting health costs under control and expanding health care access to the poor. It also gets rid of fee-for-service medicine and instead provides fundamental incentive
“The misconception is that it’s a government takeover, but it’s not. It’s about transforming a system that’s not working,” he said. “It’s a moral thing and a cost thing.”
Doctor shortage
After Nichols briefly spoke, a panel of five local health experts weighed in. Among them was Lawrence Memorial Hospital President and CEO Gene Meyer, who said there will be a shortage of primary care doctors to handle the approximately 10,000 newly insured patients in Douglas County in 2014 when the insurance mandate kicks in.
“Lower your expectations,” he said. “The ability to get in and receive the high quality health care that you’ve come to enjoy will be compromised by this law,” he said. “We do not have the provider system set up to handle that new bulk of folks who be using health care.”
Meyer said there are 2,000 pages of health reform, and LMH officials have spent a lot of time and money on figuring out to comply with those regulations. He said every new job that has been created at LMH during the past three years has been a compliance position instead of one that provides health care.
Additionally, he disagreed with Nichols on expanding access. He said everyone does have access to health care whether they have insurance or not, and that’s through the emergency room, where it’s most costly.
Nichols said that’s true and added that the government basically has told hospitals to take care of the poor for a little bit of money. “Then, we ask them to make it up anyway they can — wink, wink,” he said. “Hospitals charge private payers more because they have to. Gene’s a nice guy, but he’s not an ATM machine.”
Change delivery system
Marci Nielsen, executive director of the Patient Centered Primary Care Collaborative in Washington, D.C., and former executive director of the Kansas Health Policy Authority, said there are provisions in the Affordable Care Act to address the physician shortage. She said one way is to focus on a patient-centered medical home where pharmacists, therapists, nurses and mental health professionals are engaged in providing care — not just doctors. “What we’ve got to do is change the way we deliver services,” she said.
Nielsen said the Affordable Care Act has become more controversial since it was passed. “It’s incredibly complicated and continues to be controversial for reasons that are more political than of substance,” she said.
She said a number of groups supported the bill when it was passed and continue to support it — nurses, pharmacists, hospitals and doctors. For the first time in 100 years, she said the American Medical Association supported national health reform.
Single-payer system?
During a question-and-answer session, someone asked why we couldn’t go to a single-payer system like other countries. Nichols said he had a better shot of making the Kansas University basketball team. He said the problem is no one trusts the government.
Ironically, Nielsen added, people like the Medicare system, and it receives a higher satisfaction rate in surveys than other insurance plans. She said during 57 town hall meetings, she heard time and again how much Kansans liked Medicare.
“Medicare is government health care,” she said in a whisper, which caused laughter from the audience. “Don’t tell any one.”
Affordability?
Laura Nash, a part-time nurse, said her employer didn’t offer health insurance, and she couldn’t afford it on her salary. She wondered how the Affordable Care Act would help her.
Nichols said the Medicaid system would be expanded to include more low-income Americans. If she made too much to qualify for Medicaid, then she would be able to buy insurance through a new marketplace called an exchange. The cost of the insurance plan will be tied to income.“It’s designed to be affordable,” he said. “Having said that, I can’t guarantee it’s going to feel affordable when it comes time for you to pay what you have to pay.”
Meyer added that he also worries there will not be enough doctors who will take the new insurance plan or Medicaid. He said there aren’t enough doctors accepting Medicaid now.
Nielsen said safety net clinics like Health Care Access and Heartland Community Health Center will continue to play a role in providing care. She said the Affordable Care Act added $11 billion for such centers.
Among the other panelists were Jamie Simpson, former disability program coordinator for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment; David Johnson, CEO of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center; and Dr. Donald Hatton, of Reed Medical Group and a regent for the American College of Physicians.
Nichols concluded by encouraging everyone to participate in health reform.
“If you sit back and watch this being done to you. I promise you, you will not like it,” he said. “If you want to make this better, tell the truth and use your faith to keep the conversation going.”

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