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Cost, complexity big worries in health care

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Brain surgery looks easy compared to figuring out how to do business under the federal health care law.

That was the claim from Dr. Lee Antles, an Olympia physician who took part in a panel discussion on health care at the Association of Washington Business’ recent Policy Summit.

Hopefully Antles was exaggerating to make a point, but three years after passage of the Affordable Care Act, it’s clear that everyone from doctors, patients and business owners to insurance company executives and politicians still have plenty of concerns about how it will work.

The Association of Washington Business is hosting a health care forum Nov. 6 in Seattle to help employers get answers to some of their questions.

The keynote speaker is John Goodman, president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis. Goodman, who is known as the father of health savings accounts, is the author of a new book titled “Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis.”

Based on the discussion at the Policy Summit, cost and complexity remain huge concerns regarding the health law.

The problem for Antles and other doctors is the time required to fill out digital records. Digital records were supposed to make life easier for doctors, but they are proving to be more time-consuming than paper records, Antles said. That’s because the multiple electronic medical systems doctors must use don’t communicate with each other.

Don Conant, who represents Washington’s business community on the Washington Health Benefit Exchange board, also took part in the Policy Summit discussion. He said he’s concerned about the declining network of health care providers even as the number of people with insurance is about to soar as a result of the health care law.

Hadley Heath, a health care expert with the Independent Women’s Forum and another panelist, summed up the biggest question of all: Will it work?

The goals behind the Affordable Care Act are laudable, Heath said. They include expanding insurance coverage, making insurance more affordable and reducing cost-shifting.

The law will expand coverage, in part by greatly expanding the number of people on the Medicaid rolls, she said. And depending on age, income and number of dependents, it will make health insurance more affordable for some families.

But it will do so through the use of government subsidies and tax credits, not by reducing the cost of health care.

Providing a subsidy for something doesn’t actually reduce its cost,” Heath said. “The money to pay for the subsidy is real and it has to come from a source.”

In this case, the source is the American taxpayer.

Oct. 1 was a big day for the law. That was when state-run health exchanges, including Washington’s exchange, labeled Healthplanfinder, were scheduled to open.

Jeff Roe, executive vice president for Premera Blue Cross of Washington, another one of the Policy Summit health care panelists, said the date marked the country’s entrance into an “unprecedented time.”

The implications are unknown,” Roe said, “and won’t be known for years to come.”

Information about the Nov. 6 health care forum, “Understanding & Implementing the Changes in Health Care,” is available at

Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce.