Health Care Panel Hears of Rising Costs

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, July 20, 2012

Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

As Florida moves into the "Obamacare" era, a state insurance panel Thursday heard from stakeholders who offered some predictions but largely said it's too early to tell how the sweeping law will affect residents and businesses across the state.

There was one notable exception: They said the price of health insurance is going to go up.

During more than two hours of testimony, the Florida Health Insurance Advisory Board heard from representatives of the managed-care industry, state health officials and a conservative analyst. They mapped out scenarios should the federal health overhaul continue or be repealed by Congress before fully taking effect in 2014.

Michael Garner, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Health Plans, said the federal law will require insurers to pay about $8 billion in fees after the program begins in 2014, a figure that is expected to increase to $14 billion by 2018. Those costs will likely be passed on to consumers in the form of higher rates for policies in place after 2014.

"These premium increases will be seen soon in rate filings," Garner said.

One possible consequence, warned conservative analyst Ed Haislmaier, is that as the price of health care rises, more small employers may choose to go off the grid and not carry any coverage at all. Even without the federal law, health-insurance prices have steadily climbed in recent years.

"One way or another, if this stays or goes, there is a significant interest in employers of getting out of providing benefits," said Haislmaier, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "A lot of employers are going to find ways to get around this."

If Congress repeals all or part of the program, Haislmaier said other less-sweeping attempts to expand health care will likely follow. He used as an example of health care revisions that took place after the Clinton-backed health care efforts imploded in the early 1990s.

"Does that mean reform is dead, dead for decade? I would say no," Haislmaier told the panel.

The federal plan requires employers with more than 50 workers to offer insurance or pay fines. Individuals who choose not to obtain insurance will be taxed. Residents not receiving health care through their employers would be steered to exchanges set up to link people with insurers.

Florida is among a handful of states including South Carolina, Texas, Alaska and Maine that have already stated they would not create insurance exchanges and would rely on the federal government to run the program.


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