Moffat County residents learn about health care reform

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Elisabeth Arenales

A group of about 20 local residents walked into Craig City Hall Wednesday night with questions.

When they left, there were still many unknowns.

The future of health care in the U.S. — and here in Craig — is complex in nature, and a forum sponsored by the Craig Chamber of Commerce indicated that there are still many unknowns when it comes to the effects of health care reform.

Elisabeth Arenales, an attorney with the Colorado Center for Law and Policy, gave a presentation Wednesday that outlined changes to the national and state health care system in the near and distant future.

President Barack Obama signed a health care reform bill into law March 23.

From immediate changes, like the high-risk insurance pool and increased age limit for young adults on family plans, to the beginning of required health insurance in 2014, Arenales presented information for businesses and individuals.

About half the session was opened up to questions, establishing a dialogue Arenales said was key to moving forward.

“It’s always good to talk about things,” she said. “Anywhere, you’re going to have lots of questions on what it means for them, what their hopes and concerns are.”

Craig resident Robin Schiffbauer said beginning the conversation is important in preparing for changes.

“It’s bringing to light concerns of what may happen in Moffat County,” she said.

Schiffbauer, the assistant office manager at the Moffat Family Clinic, said she is unsure what will change with the establishment of insurance exchanges and increased Medicaid coverage.

However, she said the reform bill’s emphasis on primary care is important in controlling health care costs.

“Primary care sees everything, and it’s where you identify many different diagnoses, and then you send them off to specialists if they need to,” she said.

Also in the audience was Gisela Garrison, Northwest Colorado Community Health Center director, who applauded the government’s support of community health centers and care for the medically underserved.

However, there were concerns in the audience over the government’s involvement, which some considered excessive.

Some were concerned about the overall cost burden on taxpayers because the new bill puts a cap on how much people at certain income levels can pay for health insurance.

“The role of the government is to make sure the lowest income people get access to care,” Arenales said. “There might be some initial demand that could drive up costs.”

Also, insurance companies will be forced to cover those with preexisting conditions and high-risk patients.

“There might be some increased costs,” she said. “Obviously covering sick people is more expensive, so that could drive the cost up.”

Others were concerned over the requirement for businesses to offer health care.

The new bill will impose penalties on businesses that do not provide health insurance coverage to employees.

Small businesses will be eligible for tax credits to help them transition into the new policy.

However, Arenales believes the purchase of insurance in state-level exchanges, or insurance marketplaces, will ultimately create uniformity in the system and drive administrative costs down in the long run.

Still, many of the specifics and details have yet to unfold. The state will have the chance to decide what the exchange will look like, and many regulations do not take effect until 2014.

There are many more conversations to be had, and many more ideas to be shared.

“There’s going to be more work to do down the road no matter what,” Arenales said. “There’s no perfect solution. There are a lot of moving parts.”

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