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Opinion: Health reform continues to cause conundrum

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Was it any surprise that the super committee was unable to come to an agreement by a self-imposed deadline of Nov. 23?

Committee members were given an almost impossible task: Figure out a way to reduce our nation’s deficit by $1.2 trillion during a 10-year period. I don’t think anyone realistically expected them to succeed, and the consequences have painted Congress in a corner.

In order to keep our economy solvent, our state and federal policymakers are going to have to make some cuts and probably will increase taxes in some areas.

The health care industry seems to be one of the hardest hit, and as has been the case for many years, consumers are the ones footing the bill.

During the last two decades, paying health insurance premiums and other health care bills has become increasingly difficult for American families. As premiums have gone up each year and the cost of health care has increased, more costs have been shifted through increases in deductibles and co-payments and decreases in covered services.

The Affordable Care Act that was passed in March 2010 is supposed to help relieve that.

When the cost for those changes comes out of the pocket of average Joe citizen, it’s hard to see the benefits. A ripple effect was felt throughout the insurance industry when the Affordable Care Act was passed. Some health insurance companies simply closed, while others decided to stop offering health insurance altogether. Those that have continued to offer health insurance have changed their policies so that employers have to pay more out of pocket in order to keep their employees insured at the same levels.

And, of course, many of those employers are turning around and handing that increased cost off to their employees. Premiums have gone up, deductibles have gone up, percentage of coverage has changed and employees all over the country are feeling the pinch on their paychecks.

According to the 2011 Employer Health Benefits Survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Educational Trust, health insurance premiums have increased significantly faster than workers’ wages and general inflation. Since 2001, family premiums have increased 113 percent, compared with 34 percent for workers’ wages and 27 percent for inflation.

This year alone saw an average increase of 9 percent over the previous year.

In a period when recession has hit many Americans hard, those who haven’t lost jobs feel lucky and don’t complain about not getting raises for four or five years in a row. Should we also feel lucky that we’re effectively getting pay cuts due to changes in health care benefits?

Most people would answer, “Yes. Some money is better than no money.”

Well brace yourselves, because the cuts Congress will be forced to make during the next year will mean even more chipping away at that paycheck.

The deficit reduction law passed in August now requires $1.5 trillion in cuts to become automatic beginning in 2013, with half coming from domestic programs and half from Defense. Medicaid could be spared cuts, and Medicare will only see a 2 percent reduction that will come from provider payments, not benefits. Cutting those provider payments will not spare beneficiaries, however. Many nursing homes, for instance, are already reducing wages, benefits and staff.

As health centers and doctors’ offices begin to see the effects of these changes and budget cuts, many are beginning to wonder what will trickle down to them.

Health care is already extremely expensive; but in the U.S. we’re fortunate to have one of the most-advanced medical industries in the world. We want the newest technology and the best-trained doctors and the most well-equipped facilities. All of those things cost money.

It’s a quandary – one so confusing that even the most powerful men and women in the country are at a standstill as to what to do about the problem. We’re all adjusting as we need to – employers and employees alike. But there’s going to be more adjusting in the immediate future.

Joplin Tri-State Business Journal Editor Chris Roberts can be reached at croberts@joplintristate.biz.[[In-content Ad]]

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