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Fallowfield forum details effects of Affordable Care Act

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 1:46 a.m.
In this Feb. 7, 2013 file photo, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman speaks during a news conference in Washington. Federal accident investigators were weighing a recommendation Tuesday that states reduce their threshold for drunken driving from the current .08 blood alcohol content to .05, a standard that has been shown to substantially reduce highway deaths in other countries, Hersman said.

Within months, major components of the Affordable Care Act will take effect.

On Tuesday, area small businesses owners attended a Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce session to learn how it will affect them.

The forum on the Affordable Health Care Act took place on the Charleroi Area School District campus in Fallowfield Township.

The panel comprised Lou Panza, Monongahela Valley Hospital president and CEO; Don Good, World Kitchen human resources director; and Chuck Whitford, JRG Advisors.

Carl Knoblock, Small Business Administration western Pennsylvania district director, provided an overview of the act and served as moderator.

Knoblock said the act has numerous benefits:

• Children are covered under a parent's health insurance policy until age 26, covering them through college and until they can “get on their feet.”

• Pre-existing conditions are covered, removing the fear of losing coverage when changing jobs.

• Lower prescription costs under Medicare.

• Elimination of lifetime and annual limits on coverage.

Knoblock said starting in 2014, all individuals must have medical insurance.

Companies with 50 or more employees must provide coverage. He said 96 percent of such companies already offer medical coverage for employees.

“A lot of businesses with less than 50 employees think they have to provide insurance, and that's not true,” Knoblock said.

Knoblock said companies with fewer than 50 employees that offer health insurance coverage for employees must do so for everyone.

Any employee working 30 hours or more weekly is considered full-time under the act.

Good said some drawbacks of the act include the amount of paperwork and a potential excise tax on so-called “Cadillac plans,” which provide medical coverage above and beyond average plans.

He said that section of the act, which would not go into effect until 2018 at the earliest, might cause unions to negotiate for higher wages rather than improve health care benefits.

“World Kitchen is always going to comply, but all of these things are going to affect our competitive edge,” Good said.

Whitford said those who do not obtain health care coverage face a 1 percent tax on their wages.

Panza said the regulations are extensive, and late in coming.

“It is unfair that (the federal government) can take years to write the regulations, but we have weeks to comply,” Panza said.

Panza noted that hospitals must provide emergency care for all people, regardless of whether they have medical insurance.

He said the state's decision not to expand Medicare insurance will shortchange hospitals.

Panza said hospitals need to concentrate on providing quality care rather than volume. He said Monongahela Valley Hospital established its Primary Care Resource Center in July in an effort to better serve patients by reducing readmissions.

Nurse care managers and a pharmacist interact with and counsel patients with conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease from the time patients are admitted to the hospital.

Since then, readmissions have been reduced by 45 percent, Panza said.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or