UNMC discusses healthcare law post-election

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November 9th, 2012

Omaha, NE – The University of Nebraska Medical Center held a press conference Thursday to discuss its future in the midst of historical healthcare reforms.

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After the re-election of President Barack Obama on Tuesday night, the survival of the Affordable Care Act became more of a sure thing.

Its enactment looks inevitable for 2014 and healthcare providers like the University of Nebraska Medical Center are preparing for what a reformed healthcare system will mean for them, their students and their patients.

A panel of doctors, deans and experts convened Thursday at UNMC to discuss the outlook for the major reforms. UNMC Cardiologist Ward Chambers said healthcare reforms will focus more on keeping patients well, rather than simply treating their illness.

UNMC Cardiologist Dr. Ward Chambers said the new healthcare law can be positive changes to patient care. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

“While there’s a lot of gnashing of teeth, I’ve been in this game a long time and through lots of changes,” Chambers said. “I personally view this as an opportunity as a provider to build a system that provides higher quality of healthcare at a lower cost for our patients.”

While Chambers sees positive changes, there are also red flags the panel raised. Chambers said a healthcare system that is more accessible means an influx of patients, and more patients means the need for more physicians.

“We’re going to have … up to 40 million new patients that will have to be cared for,” he said, adding there will likely be a surplus of specialists but a shortage of primary care physicians. According to Dr. Bradley Britigan, dean of UNMC’s College of Medicine, federal budget cuts could worsen that pending shortage. The federal government funds most residency programs for new physicians.

Britigan said, “As the federal government is looking to cut its overall budget, how do we actually increase the number of residency programs to meet the need while at the same time staying within the budget restraints that we’re looking at?”

“That’s a real conundrum that has yet needs to be solved,” he said. Britigan went on to say that without changes, the number of physician graduates will far exceed the number of funded residency programs available.

Dr. Jim Stimpson, UNMC Director of Public Policy, said expanding Medicaid will be cost-saving for the state. Gov. Dave Heineman opposes it. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

“There’s a potential bottleneck to happen there once a physician graduates,” added Mark Bowen, Director of UNMC Government Relations.

A great deal of the discussion also revolved around Medicaid expansions.

Currently, there is a pool of Americans who are considered too poor to purchase private health insurance, but who earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid. As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has offered temporary financial assistance to states which expand Medicaid coverage to include those people stuck in between.

Dr. Jim Stimpson, UNMC Director of Public Policy, said the state could see cost savings by expanding its Medicaid coverage. With more people eligible for healthcare without the possibility of being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, high-risk pools once funded by the state will no longer be needed, he said, and a more insured population could bring in more tax revenue to the state.

“So there are certain areas where the state spends money on health that they’ll save because of the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “Then will there will be tax revenue that will come in that are not new taxes, but tax revenue from this money.”

However Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman isn’t buying it.

Heineman has been a vocal opponent to Medicaid expansion. Wednesday, Governor Heineman told NET News’ Fred Knapp that expanding Medicaid coverage would “bankrupt” the state and its school districts. Stimpson responded he’s not sure what data the Governor is using.

But Heineman might have his way on Medicaid. When the Supreme Court ruled on the healthcare law, it said states should not be compelled to expand it.

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