Like it or not, Obamacare will affect nearly all of us

Published 10:54am Friday, November 1, 2013

I sat in Charles Moline’s office earlier this week as he talked about health insurance, and how it’s changing because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Moline, who works at AdvisorNet Financial in Austin, could be considered a local expert on the Affordable Care Act, as much as anyone could be an expert on a law that includes roughly 900 documents.

To him, the immediate implications for many local, middle-class families who need MNsure is not good: Their health care costs will increase quite drastically. He said he had worked with about 18 families within the last couple months, and all of them will see big increases in premiums if they go with MNsure, which right now only includes two providers for area residents.

A big reason for the high premiums in Mower County may be a lack of competition. The New York Times has reported that states like its own, where there are a lot of insurers from which to choose in the state’s “health insurance marketplace,” prices are generally much lower. And, they’ve found, even areas with as few as three providers usually have reasonable prices, as competition among the insurers drives the premiums down. But once you’re down to two or one, like in southern Minnesota and many other rural areas across the country, residents are stuck with paying much higher premiums, or going without and paying a penalty.

Of course, the vast majority of Austin residents (and U.S. citizens), won’t need to enter the health insurance marketplace, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be affected in other ways. Another large part of the equation that affects everyone in Austin directly is how hospitals will provide health care. Mayo Clinic Health System — Albert Lea and Austin CEO Dr. Mark Ciota is embracing many of the changes, in particular the emphasis on team care and preventative care. Ciota and the hospital’s Chief Administrative Officer, Steve Waldhoff, say this new approach, in theory, should bring down the cost of health care.

“I think most leaders within the health care industry acknowledge that our current delivery model is not a viable long-term solution, and I think that’s very well supported in the literature,” Waldhoff said.

Yes, that means many Americans won’t be able to see their primary care physician, but that’s because they won’t necessarily have one. With the team approach, Ciota explains, several doctors and other health care providers work together to provide the best care and keep patients healthy and out of the hospital whenever possible.

“We’re going to have to get used to the idea that we can’t always see a physician if it’s not a problem the physician needs to see personally,” Ciota said, though he noted the physicians will still oversee patient care. “The whole idea of this health care reform is to make more people healthy to make the pool of healthy people bigger, which will drive the costs down for everybody.”

The effects of the law are anything but cut and dry, and we won’t know much of what’s good and what’s not for at least a few more months. But the Herald will continue to dig into what it means for local residents. Look for an in-depth report on how the Affordable Care Act, and other changes in the healthcare field, will directly impact Austin, Mower County and southern Minnesota Sunday in the print edition of the Herald.

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