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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Catawba County Chamber of Commerce Forum on Health Care Reform - September 1, 2010

This event lasted for nearly four hours. I willingly attended this event, because I want to be informed on this issue. This issue is one of the most serious issues that our nation faces. There are no simple answers and there are no easy solutions. The people of our country are going to have to start taking care of their own health to the extent that they personally control.

People want to absolve themselves of responsibility. They want to drink, smoke, do drugs, and eat unhealthy foods in excess. All of these elements are input into your body and they have consequences. And then there are external environmental inputs that can have a negative consequence towards ones well being.

I will be up front with you in letting you know that this meeting made me angry in many ways. I thought that the presentations were professionally detailed and I believe during the forum that the businessmen asked appropriate questions pertaining to their specific industries. I realize that this was a Chamber Event and therefore it is tailored around business. What bothered me is that I really didn't feel like the average person was represented during this forum. They seem to have been forgotten during this discussion. I preface what I say below as a representative of the "Average Person" -- The Average Employee -- The Forgotten Man.

Lori Alala was the moderator of this forum, she is a partner with Carolina First Associates. She stated that their goal is to help businesses navigate the intracacies of Employee benefit plans. She stated that most of the regulations have not been written and so they weren't going to be able to answer many questions today. The legislation is evolutionary.

Many of the people in the room were associated with the Insurance industry. Mrs. Alala pointed out that these agents, brokers, and consultants are committed to their industry and making sure their clients are best served.

Peter Stein, who is a lobbyist with the National Association of Healthcare Underwriters went over the information for nearly 1 1/2 hours. Much of the subject was tedious and as Mrs. Alala stated, the regulations have not been written yet, so much of what Mr. Stein was addressing could be subjected to interpretation. When I boil it all down, it appears to me that the American people have two choices, the Republican's economic euthanasia plan or the Democrat's regulatory euthanasia plan.

Under the Republican plan, the average person isn't going to be able to afford catastrophic care and their premiums will continue to rise at their currently unfettered double-digit percentage rates. The Democrats on the other hand want to control your every move and choose whether you qualify for certain coverage and certain procedures and they want to play a cut and dried statistical game with your life.

It is really easy to break down a summary of what was presented at this forum and what construe the dynamics of this public discussion -

The Blame Game:
Doctors blame Lawyers, Government, Insurance, Big Pharma, and the people
Lawyers blame Doctors, Government, Insurance, Big Pharma, and the people
Government blames Lawyers, Doctors, Insurance, Big Pharma, and the people
Big Pharma blames Doctors, Lawyers, Government, Insurance, and the people
The People blame Lawyers, Government, Insurance, Big Pharma, and the Doctors

The truth is that it is all us. Paul wants Peter to pay his costs, but Peter is broke. The third party system is out of control and it benefits no one. The lawyers are looking to win the lottery through torte cases. Doctors enjoyed the fruits of this system in the beginning, but now the demographics are working against them. The Pharmaceutical companies will eventually be in the same boat as the doctors, but right now they are enjoying the fruits of their marketing efforts in relation to the public's unquenched desire to find magic cures. And the Insurance companies are part of the banking cabal. They have invested your premiums into investments that did not pan out. Now they want you to dig a little deeper and they have the government enforcing their wishes. They want to cut costs at all costs, which directly impacts the quality of care. Who will look out for the American people? Obviously the American People are going to have to look out for themselves.

2014 seems to be the magic date(year). That is the year when minimum amounts of coverage are mandated by the government. You will be forced to have an insurance policy by then or you will be fined. That is what really had frosted me. The attitudes and compartmentalized thought processes that I was hearing from Mrs. Alala, Mr. Stein, the Accountant Johnny Davidson, and the Blue Cross - Blue Shield representative Roy Watson really bothered me. There was no compassion for their real customer. They think that the company representatives are their customers, but the customers are the individual policy holders!

Many times they stated that the fines for not having health care insurance were not steep enough. God forbid, you might choose to not participate and accept the fine, instead of be racketeered into this new Insurance Extortion system, where it sure seems like participants are going to pay more premiums to receive reduced benefits. It honestly was making me sick to listen to these perverse attitudes. And I am not speaking of their character. I just don't think they understand the implications of this convoluted scheme and the effects it will have on small businesses and individuals, and thus the overall economy. I really don't want an Insurance Agent or representative to become an integral part of my life. That is what my doctor is for!

The only concern I have towards companies is that they need to realize that their most important asset is their human capital. The well-being of the employees should be imperative, it should not be an afterthought. Companies should work hard to ensure that their employees are properly taken care of. But honestly, I would like to see companies taken out of the equation when it comes to healthcare. It is too burdensome to strap companies down with all of these added regulations. It serves no ones interests other than the lawyers, the accountants, and the insurance companies. It is a way to turn companies into cash cows for these special interests and it has destroyed the American Job base.

We live in an age of a mobile workforce. People are constantly changing jobs. This scheme tries to shoehorn healthcare into an antiquated model that worked when healthcare insurance was cheap and when employees spent their careers with one company. In an age where I have seen people living on a mental edge because of COBRA payments, I say no way. Cut out the middle man. Simplify the system. Coverage should be between an individual and his provider.

Everyone understands that we should be looking at the underlying medical costs. At least the doctors on this panel were compassionate. My personal doctor is excellent and very compassionate. Many times the Bean counters and lobbyists get lost in the minutia and don't look at us as human beings and from the basic human needs angle. Life is precious. We should not be looked at as numbers in their game of Oligopoly. What if it is their life or a family member's life that is on the line? Are they going to be so cut and dried then?

One of the items that was reported is the fact that an individuals W-2 will now have the amount of Health Care Benefit paid on their behalf listed on their W-2. It was stated that this will not be reported for tax puposes (not taxable), but how long will it be until it does become taxable? And is that not how it always starts? More convoluted semantics and process. They really seem to think we are stupid or are they delusionally naive?

It was mentioned several times that research is being done to assess costs and look at the cost/benefit analysis of certain programs to make them more efficient. What will guarantee that research is not skewed towards corporate lobbying interests at a cost to Quality of Care or the Individual's personal welfare?

Free Choice vouchers are an example of this convoluted mess. Employers that offer coverage must provide a free choice voucher to employees with incomes less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level whose share of the premium exceeds 8 percent but is less than 9.8 percent of their income and who choose to enroll in a plan in the exchange. The voucher amount must be equal to what the employer would have paid to provide coverage to the employee under the employer’s plan. Employers providing free choice vouchers will not be subject to penalties for employees that receive premium credits in the exchange.

This is Junk Legislation. Should healthcare legislation cause companies to have to change the way that they operate. There are parts of this legislation, which will empirically cause businesses to decide not to grow, not to hire more full-time workers, reduce part-time workers, encourage seasonal hires, and constantly monitor their relationships with independent contractors (1099 workers).

The Insurance representatives were expressly supportive of penalties on small businesses and average Americans. The BCBS representative flat out stated that they pushed the individual mandate (forced purchasing of insurance). The lobbyists constantly touted the fact that they had a seat at the table, but didn't get everything they wanted. They kept mentioning that we needed to look at the IRS website and kept referring to the IRS website, as though it was sending a tingle down their leg. It was obvious that the insurance companies were instrumental in ramrodding this legislation through the Federal government.

The only thing they harped on not getting was torte reform and cost containment. Ummm-hmmm, blame the Doctors and the Lawyers. If they were honest, then they would admit that they got 90% of what they wanted. And torte-reform in the context of the current system will only pad the Insurance Syndicates pockets. If they were at the table, then they can surely accept the responsibility and consequences for this mess when it blows up.

This system is convoluted. It seems to create more problems than solutions. You don't straighten out a rope by tying it into more knots. The Health Finance system has a vested interest in insuring a continuation of the current contorted corporate structure in some form. They want to tie the system (and thus you) into more knots, so that you have to come to them to untie the knots and thus they continue to enhance their careers and make even more money.

I got the most out of this event during the last 45 minutes, when the audience was allowed to ask questions and Congressman Patrick McHenry spoke.

Chamber President Danny Hearn asked what role the Insurance Companies played in the crafting of this bill? I (Thom Shell) stated that the debate is not over. Special Interests are represented, but not the average person, and the issue of affordability has not been addressed. Dr. Clare Gray spoke eloquently about who the doctors are supposed to represent. Are they supposed to represent the State (Government) or the People? Photos copyright: ©2010 Pat Appleson Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved, Used By Permission

Congressman McHenry stated during his remarks that he does not support the current reform and the debate is not over and he will fight to get healthcare reform fixed to address the availability, cost, and affordability issues.

I want to thank the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce for holding this event. It helped to open my eyes further to see what I described above.

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