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Local experts say health law constantly evolving

Chamber panelists talk highs and lows of Affordable Care Act.

A panel of local experts Thursday described the Affordable Care Act as a mixed bag of legislation that will likely bring some benefits to patients but that can also be confusing for business owners and consumers.

The experts, from a variety of area medical providers and insurance firms, met with business owners in a discussion hosted by the Greater Springfield Chamber at the Courtyard by Marriott. Those on the panel pointed out that the law is unlikely to go away, and the adjustments to the rules will likely continue to change frequently.

Members of the panel did not take sides on the issues but recommended that business owners keep in close contact with their advisers and not overreact to provisions in the law that may still change.

What’s known today will likely change over the course of the year, said John Barron, senior vice president of the Brower Insurance Agency.

“There are some good parts to this law and also there are some very challenging parts as well,” Barron said.

Members of the audience sought answers to a variety of questions, including how organizations might be penalized for declining to provide insurance, and whether it may be more cost effective to provide coverage or pay fines. However, Barron said the answer is complicated and noted penalties per employee increase depending on the size of the company involved. In many cases it may be less expensive to comply with the law, he said.

Some business owners expressed concerns about how the law might impact health care premiums for employees.

Matt Foley, of the Foley Benefits Group, said business owners will need to evaluate the risks and benefits if they decline to provide coverage.

Some aspects of the law are just now being clarified, including how some types of employees will be considered under the legislation to determine the amount of hours they work, said Michelle Sweeney, an agent and broker at Wallace and Turner. She said it’s not always clear how the law will work in the real world for some jobs, such as volunteer firefighters.

Regardless of the law, health organizations need to do a better job of finding new ways to become more cost-efficient and still find ways to improve care for patients, said John Fishpaw, vice president of advocacy and government relations for Catholic Health Partners. One of the challenges for consumers, he said, is it’s now often difficult now to compare costs for different procedures.

“This is something that has to come from within regardless of government intervention,” Fishpaw said.

Chamber officials said further panel discussions of the law are likely to help answer additional questions as the law continues to change.

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