Obama-Care: Local providers take a wait-and-see stance

NEWPORT - Three weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of President Barack Obama’s health care law, called the Affordable Care Act, one of the most anticipated and controversial decisions in many years. The new law, dubbed “Obama Care,” which includes many changes, prohibits insurance companies from withholding coverage based on a pre-existing condition, allows children to stay on their parents’ policy until the age of 26, and requires that all individuals will have health insurance coverage or faces a new tax. What does this mean locally? According to Claudio Fort, president and CEO of North Country Hospital, changes in health care will take some time to see. Some changes are obviously good, some sound good in theory but, he said, at least there is now a clear picture in what has been an area of uncertainty for some time. Fort made it clear he didn’t want to get into the political discussion.“I’ll abstain from the debate over whether this is good public policy but will opine that I believe the main result of today’s decision is that we now have a much clearer picture of the future,” Fort said.North Country Hospital typically loses about $1 million a year on uninsured patients who use the facilities and can’t pay their medical bills. In theory, the new law would help that problem, but Fort says it’s going to take some time to see what happens.Vermont is in the process of planning and implementing changes in accordance with the new health care law. Congress initially passed the Affordable Care Act two years ago. Vermont has been developing the insurance exchanges and, on a local level, North Country Hospital and other local business have been implementing several of the Act’s provisions to improve access to care such as allowing employees' dependent children to stay on their parent’s health insurance until age 26 and eliminating lifetime maximum caps on coverage, Fort explained. “As far as North Country Hospital is concerned, regardless of whether this law was upheld or struck down, the hospital’s mission - to make health care more accessible and affordable to the community - continues,” Fort stated. “We will continue to reshape how care is delivered by making advances in coordinating care to patients with chronic health conditions through our Blueprint Certified Patient Centered Medical Homes and our focus on wellness and prevention through our Wellness Center, Community Health Teams, and our comprehensive community health education programs."But uncertainty remains on how health care reform in Vermont will unfold. Fort says that community support and advocacy with elected officials is needed to ensure that the changes that are occurring in health care take into account the unique needs of the citizens of the Northeast Kingdom. “It is more important than ever that we all stay engaged in these issues and let our elected officials know how important North Country Hospital is to our patients, our employees, and the health of our community.”Visiting Nurses Association and Hospice Director Nancy Warner said the new add-ons for the rural agencies are huge. “Our national association is carefully reviewing the decision todetermine its implications of the court's ruling on expansion of the Medicaid program. It is a complex law and our industry is focusing on home health and hospice care. We are positioned to play a valuable role in carrying out provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and, at this point, only have trust that rates will not be cut in a manner that make it impossible for us to provide services fully.”