AWB Health Care Forum looks at impact of Affordable Care Act on business; new report shows state’s health care sector faces major challenges
BELLEVUE — Concern about the ways in which federal health care reform will drive up costs for Washington employers dominated discussion today during a forum hosted by the Association of Washington Business.
More than 200 people attended the 2012 AWB Health Care Forum at the Hilton Bellevue hotel, including dozens of representatives of small- and medium-sized businesses.
In addition to higher costs, business leaders expressed concern about the number of unanswered questions relating to the health care law and Washington’s new Health Benefit Exchange.
“How can we afford this?” moderator Jeff Gingold, managing attorney at Gingold Law Firm, asked a panel of state legislators, Health Benefit Exchange board members and business owners. “Is there a cost-effective way of doing this without saddling taxpayers with the cost into the indefinite future?”
The concerns mirrored those found in a new report released Tuesday at the forum. The report, “The State of Health Care in Washington State,” reveals an industry that’s vital to the state’s economy and yet one that’s facing numerous challenges, including a thicket of regulation, skyrocketing costs and a looming workforce shortage.
It’s the second in a series of reports from AWB and its nonprofit affiliate, the AWB Institute, examining the health of various Washington industry sectors. It is the result of a two-month listening tour conducted this spring with health care-related employers throughout the state.
Key trends identified in the report include:
- Over-regulation is driving health-care employers to dedicate staff to regulatory compliance, detracting from patient care.
- Costs are out of control for a variety of reasons, including inadequate reimbursement from federal programs, an increase in uncompensated care, fraudulent billing practices, defensive medicine, and a lack of knowledge on the part of consumers.
- A workforce shortage — postponed by the weak economy — is looming as the aging of the baby boomer generation leads to more retirements and an increase in demand for health care services.
Tuesday’s forum included in-depth discussion of these and other challenges facing employers, as well as ways employers can help shape the creation of the Health Benefit Exchange.
Although many details remain to be decided, it appears that the exchange will wipe out existing health plans for small employers, increasing cost and limiting choice for consumers.
“Washington business leaders were hoping a state Health Benefit Exchange would lead to more competition and lower costs, but the direction in which it is moving will deliver just the opposite,” said Gary Chandler, AWB’s vice president of government affairs.
Chandler called on employers to contact their elected representatives and tell them that Washington needs to maintain a vibrant health care insurance market outside of the state exchange.
The forum featured Hadley Heath, senior policy analyst with the Independent Women’s Forum; Neil Trautwein, vice president and employee benefits policy counsel with the National Retail Federation; state Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee; state Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle; Don Conant, general manager of Valley Nut & Bolt Company; Phil Dyer, senior vice president, Healthcare Management Services, Kibble & Prentice; and Steve Neighbors, CEO, Terra Staffing.
About the Association of Washington Business
Formed in 1904, the Association of Washington Business is Washington’s oldest and largest statewide business association, and includes more than 8,000 members representing 700,000 employees. AWB serves as both the state’s chamber of commerce and the manufacturing and technology association. While its membership includes major employers like Boeing, Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser, 90 percent of AWB members employ fewer than 100 people. More than half of AWB’s members employ fewer than 10. For more about AWB, visit www.awb.org.