June 29, 2012 in City

Reactions are mixed locally

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Large insurance companies and medical providers were nonplussed by Thursday’s historic Supreme Court ruling that upheld far-reaching reforms to the nation’s health care system.

Premera Blue Cross, the largest private insurer in Eastern Washington, said the mandates requiring insurance coverage and access to care should be applauded, but reforms don’t go far enough to control the rapid rise in medical costs.

“We just want to make sure these provisions don’t interfere with the care our members receive,” said Premera spokeswoman Amy Carter. “And we want to make sure our members have coverage available at affordable rates.”

Premera, a nonprofit organization, has said its rates will inevitably continue to rise under health reform, partly because of a new tax on insurers that will cost the company $60 million each year and because health plans will be required to absorb more risk.

“I am just shocked,” said Suzie Hokonson, an advocate for health care reform. “I woke up to an awesome piece of news this morning. Unexpected news.”

Deaconess Hospital employee Mary Robinson said she is thankful her sons, ages 20 and 23, can continue to be covered by her insurance policy.

“As a mom, it’s my privilege and responsibility to help guide them. This is part of that.

“I’m thrilled this allows me to help.”

There are 62,000 young adults in Washington who have used the reform provision allowing them to remain on their parents’ plans until age 26.

Hospitals and physician groups hope that bringing the majority of Washington’s 927,000 uninsured people into a coverage plan will ease the problems with unpaid bills and eventually steer people clear of unnecessary emergency room visits.

In Spokane, the two large competing hospital systems have been buying medical clinics and changing their business models even amid the political and financial uncertainties of reform.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, has been among the leaders of the House opposing the reforms.

She called health reform the “largest tax in America’s history,” and said even though the Supreme Court’s conservative Chief Justice John Roberts determined the law was constitutional, it “does not mean it is a good law.”

“In fact, it is a terrible law: unprecedented government power, fundamentally changing the relationship between the individual and the government.”

Group Health Cooperative said Thursday that the ruling was just another hurdle to clear in its drive to address two stubborn issues: “how to reform a health care system that is unsustainable because it costs too much and provides too little value to the people it is supported to serve; and how to expand access to high-quality coverage and care.”

Spokane business and real estate developer Ron Wells called the court ruling a victory for people and business.

He applauded the requirement of forcing insurance companies to spend 80 percent of their premium collections on paying medical bills rather than fighting claims, paying exorbitant executive salaries, building rich reserves and hiring lobbyists. Premera said it is already meeting that threshold.

Wells was once a board member of Empire Health Services, which operated Deaconess and Valley hospitals. He is now a board member of Providence Health Care, which oversees Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital.

“I couldn’t be more ecstatic in that we’ve finally made the move to join the rest of the civilized world in adopting the premise that human beings deserve the right to health care,” he said, “not just the privileged few, but everybody.”


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