Business community remains wary of health reform

//September 14, 2009

Business community remains wary of health reform

//September 14, 2009

Executives give mixed reviews to Obama speech pushing broad changes to coverage landscape.The framework for health care reform that President Barack Obama delivered to a joint session of Congress last night drew mixed reviews from close watchers of the debate in the New Jersey business community.

“Reform is in everyone’s interest,” said Joan Verplanck, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, which opposes a government-run health plan, an employer mandate and new health insurance taxes.

View a Wordle of Obama’s health care address

New Jersey employers “continue to see a steady upward trend in the cost of insurance,” and are asking their employees to shoulder a larger share of the cost, Verplanck said. Organizations like the chamber should be permitted to pool together to shop for insurance outside the state, she said, thus increasing competition.

John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, teaches health care law and ethics at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He expects the legislation to have little impact on his members, who mostly already provide health insurance and probably will not be allowed to move their workers into the quasi-government option he expects will emerge.

But the key weakness of the current move toward reform is its failure to tackle the relentless rise in health care spending, Sarno said.

“We need a transformation in how we consume health care,” he said. “Americans overconsume health care, and doctors and providers are paid to abet that overconsumption.”

Joel Cantor, director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, said the health reform taking shape in Congress “would dramatically change” the health care landscape in New Jersey. “I think we would see the long-running hospital financial crisis stabilize … [and] see gaps in access closed,” he said.

A lack of common-sense solutions disappointed Carl Underland, chief executive of Carlisle & Associates, in Voorhees, which represents doctors in negotiating reimbursement rates from insurance companies.

“We need to get connected with the patient earlier on, and educate them and monitor them, and intervene earlier to help them make better lifestyle choices,” he said, adding he opposes a public option.

Whatever Congress decides, Eileen Shrem, an insurance agent with 100 business clients around the state — nearly all of whom have less than 25 employees — said her clients are unlikely to make any changes in their insurance plans.

“My groups are very small, four- to five-person groups,” Shrem said. “If you compare the cost and the quality of coverage between individuals and group coverage, you will want group coverage.”

Jeff Scheininger, president of Flexline/U.S. Brass & Copper and chairman of the state chamber’s health initiative, said Obama “was disappointingly silent or vague on those key issues where details really matter. Insurance exchanges need to cross state lines to give consumers real choice, medical malpractice reforms need to be real and concrete — not some vague promise,” and the final bill must not increase the deficit.

E-mail Beth Fitzgerald at [email protected]