Health reform: Confusion, opposition, change

Health care reform continues to keep on ticking.

That would surprise the many Americans who believe the Affordable Care Act has been stopped dead in its tracks.

A February poll found that 22 percent of respondents said the health reform law has been repealed. And an additional 26 percent said they didn’t know enough to say whether it’s still the law of the land, according to the national poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Despite these perception problems, health care reform has moved ahead even in states dominated politically by Republicans.

Last week, the Pensacola federal judge who declared the law unconstitutional in January granted a stay on that ruling. Judge Roger Vinson agreed with the Obama administration that it would be “extremely disruptive” to block implementation of the reform law while appellate courts weigh its constitutionality, as The Wall Street Journal reported.

The case ultimately will be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

And while Gov. Nathan Deal and other Georgia conservatives vow to fight the law in the courts, a bill has been introduced in the Republican-dominated General Assembly to lay the groundwork for the insurance exchanges required under health reform.

These insurance marketplaces – one for individuals, one for small businesses and their employees – would put people in pools to increase their buying power.

House Bill 476 ‘’is a constructive first step toward building a more competitive, transparent and affordable insurance marketplace for Georgia’s health care consumers,’’ said Cindy Zeldin of the consumer group Georgians for a Healthy Future, who supports the reform law.

State Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, who strongly opposes the Affordable Care Act, said recently that Georgia still must pursue creating an insurance exchange under the law. The state must move forward as if lawsuits to overturn the law never happened, he said.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reported last week that Republicans in the U.S. Senate have mounted an attempt to oust the head of Medicare and Medicaid, Donald Berwick, who is leading administration efforts to move the reform law forward. “Dr. Berwick’s lack of experience in the areas of health plan operations and insurance regulation raise serious concerns about his qualifications for this position,” said the senators’ letter.

Berwick is working on a regulation that would allow hospitals and groups of doctors to band together to provide coordinated health care for Medicare patients, the AP said.

The reform law has accelerated the industry trend of hospitals combining with other hospitals and with physicians to form large, integrated systems. That push for consolidation is seen in metro Atlanta with the potential sales of two stand-alone hospitals, St. Joseph’s of Atlanta and Henry Medical Center, as the AJC’s Carrie Teegardin has reported.

And private industry is gearing up for health reform. An Atlanta-based health information technology firm, Connecture, said last week that it’s marketing software for states to use in their insurance exchanges.

Health care reform ‘’is an opportunity for us,’’ said the company’s CEO, Dan Maynard.