Kathryn Turner
Summit Daily News

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June 28, 2012
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Health care decision draws mixed emotions locally

Whether it's elation, anger or neutrality, the Thursday announcement that the bulk of the Affordable Care Act - or "Obamacare" - was upheld by the Supreme Court drew reactions from all sides, including those who say it's just not enough, and those who think there's more education to be done.

Local retired physician and health care activist Don Parsons thinks that overall, it's great news - although, not a complete solution to the country's problems.

"There have already been some very important elements that have been introduced," Parsons said. Among those, he counts the elimination of pre-existing conditions exclusions, insurance coverage for those up to age 26 on their parents' plans, and the requiring of for-profit insurance companies to comply with medical-loss ratio rules (80-85 percent of consumers' premiums must be spent on care).

That said, Parsons thinks the for-profit health insurance system is one of the biggest problems. He's in favor of a single-payer model, something that doesn't require physicians like Dr. Marc Shiffman - who is closing his Summit County practice due to the "actions and mandates of private, for-profit insurance companies" and low Medicare reimbursement rates - to spend the bulk of their time on billing and collecting and contracts.

"It's just a terrible misuse of resources," Parsons said. "It takes doctors' attention away from taking care of patients."

Dr. David Gray of High Altitude Mobile Physicians concurs with that sentiment, but says the Affordable Care Act will impose even more unnecessary regulations on doctors. And, it doesn't address the real catalyst behind medical costs, he said: the practice of defensive medicine, and the high cost of insurance for physicians.

"We continually feel like we have to cover our butts, and that was not addressed. To me, that's the biggest driver of cost," Gray said.

Gray is also worried people will wait until the last minute - like when they're lying in a hospital bed - to purchase coverage, since pre-existing conditions have to be covered.

Over at High Country Healthcare, CEO Rhonda Koehn said there are still details to be ironed out that will determine how it affects physicians, but "we will continue to work very hard to meet our community and patient needs."

From groups around the state, there was both applause and sneers.

A statement from Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said the decision was extraordinary and unexpected, and is a blow to the constitutional system of federalism.

"The court has endorsed Congress's unprecedented decision to mandate that individual Americans buy a particular product or service or pay an economic sanction," Suthers said in a statement. "Whether Congress does so under the commerce clause or the federal tax power, the result is the same - an unprecedented expansion of federal power."

The folks over at the Colorado Children's Campaign - a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and advocacy organization - celebrated the decision.

'We've fought hard for the protections and security this law guarantees and we must stay committed to connecting Colorado's children and families to the affordable health coverage they need to thrive," a press release from the organization said. "Working together, we can move Colorado closer to the common sense goal that all Coloradans get the care they need, when they need it."

Colorado union Colorado AFL-CIO also applauded the decision.

" ... This ruling is a huge victory for working families in Colorado and working families across the nation," said Mike Cerbo, executive director.

In a Thursday statement, Gov. John Hickenlooper said the ruling keeps Colorado on the path to reform it has been on since the Affordable Care Act became law.

"We must also remember that controlling costs across the entire health system is a critical component of expanding coverage," he said. "We remain committed to doing everything we can to improve the health and health care of all Coloradans."

A call out for opinions from the Summit Daily News Facebook community drew opinions, and personal stories.

Susan Bibeau Bauer is currently attending medical school in Denver, and hope to practice someday in Summit County.

"I sincerely hope this bill offers the citizens of Summit County the ability to have real health coverage and the ability to afford it on the incredibly low salaries earned," she said.

Elan Sprouse works seasonally, "like perhaps the majority of otherwise healthy 20- and 30-year-olds living in Summit," which does not lend itself to any sort of affordable health care, she said.

"I truly hope that it will benefit those that need it, without changing taxes too much," Sprouse said.

Melodie Wantuch and her husband used to buy insurance just for him because of pre-existing conditions. But after doing the math, they realized it was cheaper to go without and pay out-of-pocket for individual doctor visits and procedures.

"I don't know how I feel about Obamacare as I haven't had time to gain a decent understanding of it, but I hope it's significantly better than what's in place and doesn't place further stress on already stretched budgets," Wantuch said.

Julie Stromwall wrote in to say her self-employed father, who needs new hips, was finally able to get coverage under Obama's plan after a few attempts.

"I am so very thankful it is there for those who need it (much like CHP+ and Medicaid)," Stromwall said. "Though I do not qualify for anything, I will gladly pay the extra taxes just to see my dad walk again and live a healthy life."

But, there's still more education to be done. Parsons said people like small business owners are worried about what it will cost them, "because they don't understand what the requirements are."

"A lot of people have misinformation about what this new law requires," Parsons said. "But as time goes on, those factual elements will be clarified and people will be more comfortable."


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The Summit Daily Updated Jun 28, 2012 05:41PM Published Jun 28, 2012 05:39PM Copyright 2012 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.