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Local officials unsure if health care changes will help area residents

By Staff | Dec 21, 2009

Senators could pass health care reform as early as Christmas Eve, but what effect it will have locally is still unclear.
The Congress’ upper house passed the latest version of the reform bill early Monday morning with a tight margin of 60-40, reported the Associated Press. This week the bill is scheduled for two more votes, one this morning and the other on Christmas Eve.
Conservatives on the opposite aisle continue to hold out on the bill and criticize last-minute negotiations that have made changes to the draft without providing Senators a time to review or amend.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, released a statement Monday supporting the reform bill.
“I firmly believe this legislation will provide more affordable coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, prevent insurance companies from dropping folks who get sick and stop them from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions,” said Nelson. “The legislation will also help reduce the country’s deficit.”
Nelson, who believes reform will make health care more available and affordable, said he successfully added an amendment into the bill that excluded 800,000 Florida policyholders from having their Medicare Advantage cut, many of whom are seniors living in the southern portion of the state.
Like many Americans, Nelson agrees that the current system needs to be changed.
“I believe that no matter where people stand on certain specifics of this complex issue of reforming health care, most all of us should agree the current system can be unfair and too costly. It’s broken — and, it needs to be fixed,” said Nelson.
He added that he wants the bill to include lower prices for Medicare prescriptions or to have the government allow seniors to buy cheaper drugs from Canada.
Reform is expected to insure an additional 2.5 million Floridians, according to a report from Families USA, thereby reducing the amount hospitals have to pay for uncompensated care.
The county’s largest employer, the Lee County School District, has already been dealing with skyrocketing health insurance premiums. It has approximately 10,000 employees, many of whom receive their medical insurance through the district.
Last year the school board voted out the most expensive 927 Plan and now offers three varying PPO plans and one HMO under Blue Cross Blue Shield. But even with these changes some families will see their premiums nearly double when payments change starting March 16.
The school district’s director of Insurance and Benefits Management, Susan Strong, said each of the tiers — employee, one child, children, spouse and family — will increase by 18.5 percent, yet some employees with more tiers will experience more of an increase, she said.
Strong also wasn’t clear about how the health care reform bill would effect premiums or coverage at the district-level.
“I started out reading it, but it has changed so many times I really don’t know how that is going to impact the school district,” said Strong. “It could bring prices down or drive prices up.”
Donna Mutzenard, representing teachers with the Florida Education Association, said there is concern among employees that premiums are out of hand, but added that spikes in premiums are a result of more people in the group seeking health care.
“The bottom line is we are self-insured,” she said. “And our rate increases are based on claim experience, as a group it is everybody.”
She also couldn’t say whether health care reform would benefit a large group such as the 10,000 school employees in Lee County or is focused more on individuals without insurance.
“I haven’t seen anything in the health care reform that would help an organization that has group insurance, that is aimed more for people who don’t have insurance,” said Mutzenard.