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Expert: Health care too expensive, not effective

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Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

While the new federal health care law is not perfect, America's current health care system is too expensive and not effective enough, a national health care expert said on Tuesday during a town hall meeting at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.

The United States spends about $2.5 trillion annually on health care, about one-fifth of our economy, and more per person than countries in Europe, said Dr. Kent Bottles, a senior fellow at the Thomas Jefferson School of Population Health in Philadelphia.

“It's costing too much money for the federal government and it's costing individuals too much money,” Bottles said. “We don't have the best health care in the world. We ranked 34th ... Obviously you can get great health care in the United States, but we don't as a whole nation have really good quality outcomes when you measure them.”

Speaking to about 100 people who gathered for the town hall cosponsored by Excela Health, Bottles said that if the price of eggs increased as much as health care has since 1945, a dozen would cost $55, he said.

A gallon of milk would be $48 and a dozen oranges would cost $134.

Bottles said the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is not a perfect law, but it's an attempt to make coverage more affordable and accessible and reform the way health care providers are compensated.

He said he disagrees with Pennsylvania's decision to let the federal government run the insurance marketplaces set to come online by January 2014 rather than let the state tailor it to fit local needs.

And he said Gov. Tom Corbett made a mistake when he announced earlier this month that he will not expand eligibility for Medicaid, a joint state and federal insurance program for low-income people, even though the federal government would foot the majority of the bill.

Bottles said by expanding eligibility, about 500,000 uninsured people could have been covered. Although it would cost the state $2.8 billion, the federal government would have sent $37.8 billion for the expanded coverage.

“In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich — he is not a flaming liberal ... he looked at the same thing and said, ‘I can't turn it down. It's too good a deal for me to turn down.'”

Bottle answered several questions.

Q How will consumers be affected by the new law?

A If you're on Medicare, there won't be many changes and your benefits can't be cut. If you have employer-provided insurance or are on another government-paid plan, you won't see many changes unless your employer decides to stop offering coverage and you have to shop for insurance in the new marketplaces. The challenge really is getting the 18 million young adults without insurance to obtain it because if they're not in the risk pool, the whole system won't work economically.

Q Is there one group that will bear more of the cost of this new law?

A There are some people caught in a bubble who were supposed to get covered under the Medicaid expansion, but I think eventually all the states will expand the program. High wage earners will see a big increase in the Medicare deduction on their paycheck, so they'll pay more in taxes. Small businesses, those with fewer than 50 employees, are worried they're going to have to provide more health insurance.

Q Are there provisions in the new law to deny coverage to people over a certain age? For example, could someone be denied a kidney transplant because he is older than 70?

A Absolutely not. It's just not true. There was a provision in an early version of the law to allow doctors to counsel patients on end-of-life care, but it was not a “death panel” and nobody was telling you what you had to do. There's nothing in the law that would deny care to people because of their age.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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