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Navigating the Affordable Care Act

Panel to address concerns and questions about the Affordable Care Act on April 28

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2013-04-18


You don’t have to be the most astute follower of current events to know that big changes to our healthcare system are set to happen in January of 2014, when the Affordable Care Act — sometimes called “Obamacare” — is implemented in full.

But understanding some of those changes and what they mean requires a lot more than just following the news. The law is complex and confusing, and when you add the mountains of misinformation and political propaganda that surround the issue, it’s no wonder there’s a lot of worry and uncertainty. “The law has some really important innovations that people need to be aware of,” says Dr. Jonathan Walker or Allen County Retinal Surgeons. “At the same time there are aspects of the law that are worrisome.”

Dr. Walker — along with Paul Wilson, the CEO of Park Center, and Professor Abe Schwab, ethicist and assistant professor of philosophy at IPFW — is part of a panel that will lead a free discussion entitled “Obamacare and You: What’s Ahead?” at 1 PM on Sunday, April 28 at the Allen County Public Library.

The panel aims to review the history of the law and the forces that helped create it, as well as discuss the problems with the healthcare system that make reform necessary. “The three of us each give a small talk on our various specialties, and then we’re just going to open it up, so people can ask questions about what is supposed to happen, things they’ve heard, and we can try to help solve and answer some of those things,” says Walker.

“Nobody will believe this, but we don’t have an agenda,” he continues. “We’re not making money off this, we just realize that there are so many people who are worried and uncertain that if we can get people to at least think about some of this stuff, and maybe help them understand where to look and what to expect, it’s worth trying.”

Walker, Wilson, and Schwab have held several similar open discussions in the past. At previous events, Walker says they’ve had a wide sampling of people — basically, anyone who knows they’re going to be interacting with the healthcare system. Unfortunately, says Walker… “people don’t really understand how difficult our healthcare system can be until they get sick.”

One of the most common misconceptions Walker hears is that the law is designed to ration healthcare and limit people’s access to it. Probably the most prevalent phrase to arise from the issue was “death panels,” that the law establishes a government panel to make decisions for end-of-life care for people on Medicare. It doesn’t, but that idea is still out there (Walker sites a Kaiser Family Foundation survey that found 61% of those polled thought the law does this, or they aren’t sure).

Another misconception: the law is going to cut benefits for people on Medicare. Once again, that’s not true. “The law actually does cut some of the waste in Medicare, but none of those cuts have anything to do with cutting benefits for people,” Walker says.

One of the ironies is that for all the alarmist talk about government rationing of healthcare, many people seem comfortable with the fact that in our current system, healthcare is rationed financially by an industry motivated by profit — if you’ve got money, Walker says, you’ll get the care; if you don’t, you won’t. The law attempts to address that problem, but falls short. So while he regularly hears these misconceptions about the Affordable Care Act, Walker points out that there are some very real aspects of the law that are just as troubling. “We have a very fragmented, for-profit healthcare system that costs all of us a lot more money than it needs to, and leaves a lot of people out in the cold,” he says. “Believe it or not, ‘Obamacare’ only changes that a little bit. There are some really good aspects of ‘Obamacare,’ but one of the more worrisome ones is that the fundamental structure of the law was designed by the for-profit insurance industry — the mandate, the subsidies, the exchanges, those are all designed to protect the profits of that industry.”

The discussion is sponsored by Hoosiers for a Commonsense Healthcare Plan, a not-for-profit group who (in the words of their mission statement) advocates for “a publicly financed, privately delivered (single payer) universal health plan at the state and national level.” Walker says that particular option seems to be “totally off the table” at this point, and that what he, Wilson and Schwab are concentrating on with the panel discussions is the law as it is. They’ve invited representatives from the offices of Senators Coats and Donnelly, and Representative Stutzman, though so far, only Coats’ office has confirmed.

Leaving politics out of any discussion of the Affordable Care Act is difficult, but organizers say the problems inherent in the system should transcend politics. I routinely see the misery that our healthcare system brings on when people are struggling to pay for their care and deal with their disease,” Walker says. “If there’s anything I can do to help people understand the system, it’s worth doing, because it will hopeful decrease the misery factor.”

Obamacare and You: What’s Ahead?
Sunday, April 28 at 1 PM
Allen County Public Library, Conference Room C
900 Library Plaza
FREE

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