Businesses could benefit this year from health care reforms

By Isaac Bonnell

While much of the federal health care reform law will not take effect until 2014, there are a lot of changes being made this year that will affect businesses and people seeking insurance coverage.

An estimated 500,000 additional Washington residents will get health insurance this year and the state is creating a high-risk insurance pool to insure those who are often denied coverage, state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said at a June 23 Bellingham City Club panel discussion.

Kreidler spoke at the event just one day after he attended a White House breakfast with other insurance commissioners, industry executives and President Obama. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to implement these reforms, Kreidler said.

“Americans are still strongly divided on the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “But as an insurance commissioner, the fact is that it is the law of the land and it’s my job to implement it.”

Also starting this year, small businesses with fewer than 25 employees will be able to write off 35 percent of the health benefits given to employees. That amount will increase to 50 percent in 2014, Kreidler said.

The way services are paid for will also start to change this year for the better, said Dr. David Lynch, immediate past president of the Whatcom County Medical Society. Much of Lynch’s speech at the event focused on reducing costs and improving the quality of care.

“The way doctors and professionals are paid these days does not help change the way we treat chronic conditions,” he said. “The payment system dictates the kind of care that is given.”

More than half of the cost of health care is related to treating chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, Lynch said.

The new health care law also provides broader coverage for preventive care, and that will go a long way to reduce long-term costs, said Victoria Doerper, executive director of the Northwest Regional Council.

The Bellingham City Club is a nonpartisan civic organization that meets each month at Northwood Hall. Events are open to the public. Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna is scheduled to speak in July about why he is suing the federal government on health care reform.

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