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Experts weigh law’s implications at health care forum

Profile image for By Lowell Brown / Staff Writer
By Lowell Brown / Staff Writer

Denton residents got a crash course in health care reform Tuesday during a panel discussion at Emily Fowler Central Library.

About 60 people filled a small meeting room to hear experts explain details of the 2010 federal health care law in the first of a two-part “Healthcare 101” session organized by the Denton Black and Hispanic chambers of commerce. The second session is planned for sometime in May.

The event held true to its promise of steering clear of partisan politics, feeling more like a college lecture than a political debate. Still, panelists expressed some skepticism that the law could achieve its goals of increasing access to health care and improving quality while still holding down costs.

“The iron triangle of health care is cost, access and quality,” said Dr. Robert Schwab, chief quality officer at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton. “Traditional public health teaching is you can get two of the three, but you can never get three of the three. If you’re going to improve any one of them, it generally comes at the expense of at least one of the others.”

The hope is that as more Americans gain insurance and medical providers focus more on preventive care, it will produce healthier patients and lower costs in the long run, said Steve Love, president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council.

“But actuarially, I’ve never seen a report to substantiate that,” Love said.

Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with a goal of expanding insurance coverage to nearly all Americans. At its heart are mandates that most Americans buy insurance — and most businesses offer it — or face penalties.

The government estimates the law will insure roughly 32 million people who previously lacked insurance, mostly by expanding Medicaid, creating new state-run “exchanges” where private insurers will compete for customers, and offering government tax credits and subsidies to offset costs.

Some provisions of the law are already in place. Others, including the mandate to carry health insurance, will take effect in 2014 pending a U.S. Supreme Court review this year.

Supporters say the mandate is needed to ensure that younger, healthier people enter the insurance market and hold down rates when, starting in 2014, insurers can no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. The law also prevents insurance companies from placing lifetime limits on coverage or dropping customers when they get sick.

If the insurance requirements stand without the mandate to carry insurance, most insurers would go out of business, said Bill Trees of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas.

“It’s just not going to work,” he said.

John and Karen Iverson left the meeting feeling better informed.

“There’s a lot of political snipping that goes on back and forth instead of being informative,” John Iverson said. “This was very informative.”

LOWELL BROWN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is .