published Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Costs called biggest health care challenge

DALTON, Ga. — The primary challenge to offering health care to employees is the cost, both to the employees and to the business, small business owners told Georgia government officials Tuesday.

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Business owners also said they want Georgia to be proactive in looking at ways to implement the federal health care law and reduce costs rather than waiting for the federal government to establish a state exchange.

“The biggest problem is the cost. That and the lack of options,” Randy Waskul said. “If I have an employee making $10 an hour, there is no way they can pay $7,000 a year for health care coverage. We need to find a way to balance the cost.”

Waskul, co-owner of a small business with nine employees in Georgia and Tennessee, asked questions and provided his perspective during a session held by Georgia’s Health Insurance Exchange Advisory Committee. The session at Dalton State College was the third such event held around the state.

The committee is tasked with gathering input from local communities and business owners, researching the aspects of the new law and providing Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal with a recommendation by Dec. 15.

“States have a lot of latitude to craft something as we see fit,” Blake Fulenwider, a Georgia health policy advisor told the group. “But at this point we don’t know what all the mandates will look like.”

Georgia is looking most closely at the Small Business Health Options Program Exchange as one of the options available within the new health car law, Fulenwider said. The small group market exchange would be available to businesses with 1 to 100 employees and would provide limited 2-year employer tax credits.

The exchange would provide administrative services to help explain options to businesses and their employees.

About 23 percent of Georgians are uninsured, a figure that has increased in recent years, Fulenwider said. Since about 36 percent of all employees and 96 percent of Georgia businesses have 50 or fewer employees, small businesses will see some of the biggest effects when the law is implemented. In addition, fewer small businesses offer their employees insurance.

Fulenwider said they are not sure the exchange will lower health care costs. In addition, the state likely will see more people enrolled into public health care plans such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Several business owners and other attendees told the committee that they preferred to see the state establish a plan that not only addressed implementation of the health care law but pursued ways to lower health care costs for the state.

“We need something built in Georgia, by Georgians, for Georgians,” said Ryan Mahoney, with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, as most in the room nodded in agreement. “We need to do something about the issues of cost, affordability and coverage.”

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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