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Tough medicine: Luncheon sheds light on health reform

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Stratagem CEO and President Steve Dickson breaks down each of the presidential candidate’s plans about health care reform during Tuesday’s luncheon regarding the reform at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center. The luncheon was hosted by the Natchez-Adams County and Concordia Parish chambers of commerce, and the Miss-Lou Regional Healthcare Committee.

VIDALIA — Three guest speakers who provided information about the Affordable Care Act Tuesday afternoon all agreed on one thing — health care reform is happening regardless of who wins the November election.

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Dr. Kenneth Stubbs asks the speakers a question about the health care reform law and how it will affect individual offices Tuesday afternoon during an informational luncheon hosted in part by the Miss-Lou Regional Healthcare Committee at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center.

With that cold-hard fact brought up early during an informational luncheon hosted by the Natchez-Adams County and Concordia chambers of commerce and the Miss-Lou Regional Healthcare Committee, the speakers took to the podium to each outline how the upcoming health care reform would be affecting local residents.

“We’re not here to be a political forum — this is meant to be informative and educational,” said Sarah Smith, chair of the committee, as she introduced the speakers. “We all need to have a better understanding of what’s coming down the road because regardless of who’s elected, there’s going to be health care reform.”

Steve Dickson, president and chief executive officer of Strategem Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the Mississippi Hospital Association, began his speech by asking one simple question.

“In the United States, is health care a right or a privilege?” Dickson said asking members of the audience to raise their hands depending on which answer they believed was correct. “You may think you’re against socialized medicine, but we’ve been living with socialized medicine since the 1940s.”

Dickson took audience members on a trip down memory lane, recalling several bills passed since the 1940s — mainly the Hospital Survey and Construction Act, or Hill-Burton Act — that paved the way for the soon to be health care reform.

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Miss-Lou residents, including health care professionals and city officials, listen to speakers as they discuss the health care reform law and how it could possibly affect each state during an informal luncheon Tuesday afternoon.

Dickson broke down the health care plans for each presidential candidate, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and the plan presidential candidate Mitt Romney has supported, dubbed the Paul Ryan Budget.

Highlighting bits and pieces of each plan, Dickson reaffirmed the overall theme of the afternoon stating that the changes were coming either way.

“Hospitals and physicians on the federal, state and at the local level will all soon be dealing with the same things,” Dickson said. “Everyone needs to understand there’s so many factors and variables in this, not even looking at the political side of everything.”

Ed Sivak, founding director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, spoke about the potential positive economic impact that the Medicaid expansion portion of the health care reform could have on the state.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid will be expanded as of Jan. 1, 2014, to include individuals between the ages of 19 to 65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level based on modified adjusted gross income.

The federal government would reimburse states that choose to participate in the expansion program for the costs of expanding Medicaid.

“There are significant federal dollars tied to expansion into the state,” Sivak said. “There are characteristics of our population — heart disease, diabetes — which conflict with our economic development because employers don’t want to move into a state where it would cost more to insure their employees.

“So there are several economic reasons why the state should pursue Medicaid expansion.”

The Supreme Court upheld the right of individual states to decline Medicaid expansion during its ruling on the Affordable Care Act.

If surrounding states choose to move forward with the expansion and Mississippi doesn’t, Sivak said it could drive dollars away to other surrounding states.

“Arkansas has already said they would move forward with the expansion and Tennessee and Alabama have said they’re considering it,” Sivak said. “Does that put us at a disadvantage when we’re recruiting industry?

“We’ll be paying taxes to cover the Medicaid expansion, and if we choose not to expand, those funds will be going to people in California or other places that did expand.”

Candice Whitefield, executive director of the Mississippi Health Information Network and a former policy advisor for former Gov. Haley Barbour, spoke about the company that will handle the Mississippi health insurance exchange.

The Mississippi Comprehensive Health Insurance Risk Pool Association provides health care coverage to residents who wish to purchase coverage, but can’t obtain it because of health conditions.

Whitefield associated the system with popular travel websites like Travelocity, where you will be able to browse multiple offers and prices for the coverage you need.

“It will be a Web portal where you will put in what you want in terms of health insurance and numerous different plans will be available to choose from on the exchange,” Whitefield said. “You’ll be able to say, ‘I want a deductible of this amount, copay of this amount and it will populate all the different choices.

“There is a minimum standard that all the health care plans will have to offer, but that hasn’t been defined by the federal government.”

Smith said she thought the event was successful mainly because it offered various perspectives on the upcoming health care reform.

“I think all three speakers had something different to offer for the members in the audience,” Smith said. “I think a similar meeting would be something to think about after we know who is going into office.

“Like all the speakers mentioned, health care reform will happen, it just might be laid out differently depending on who is in office.”