Health care majors confront challenges of Obamacare

Casey Downey

In March of 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which outlines goals of improving health care quality with lower costs to consumers.

Many Americans are buzzing about the Affordable Care Act and what it means for them, since enrollment sites opened this month.

Those on the health care administration track at WKU are learning about the inner workings of the health care system, focusing on how the bill will affect patient care and the payment system.

Gregory Ellis-Griffith, assistant professor of public health, is the director for undergraduate health care administration. Since he came to WKU in August of 2010, he has worked with students to outline challenges presented by the bill and develop strategies to face these problems head on.

Students are also working to understand the advantages presented for the health care industry through the Affordable Care Act.

“It was October 2010 when huge chunks of it started to come into effect and a big part of it was discussing how the changes occur,” Griffith said. “In the U.S., we tie health insurance to our jobs, but with the ‘Great Recession,’ numerous people were losing their jobs.

“This was happening at the same time health insurance premiums were skyrocketing. So if you look at these two main events occurring, you could almost predict something major was going to have to come out of Washington to deal with it. And that’s when they came up with the Affordable Care Act.”

Kentucky is one state on the forefront for the Affordable Care Act as it is the only state in the South to fully implement these provisions. The commonwealth is being closely monitored by the federal government to track progress and ensure that proper procedures are followed.

According to a site for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, some key features of the act include discounts for seniors citizens, protection against health care fraud and free yearly wellness visits.

There are also new policies to protect consumers. One law is that insurance agencies must justify the need for policy rate increases of 10 percent or more before they can be implemented.

The Affordable Care act also prevents consumers from disqualification based on pre-existing health conditions.

“Let’s say if when you were a teenager you had bad acne,” Griffith said. “The insurance company could go back in your records, pull the fact that you once had acne and say they’re not going to cover this skin cancer you have. And they can’t do that anymore.”

The Affordable Care Act also makes promises that women will no longer pay more than men for health insurance, as their rates historically tend to be higher. This particular change will take affect in January.

One provision that affects many college students is the extension of dependent health care coverage. The maximum age to remain on the same plan as parents was extended from 22 to 26.

Griffith says its policies like this that are showing a statistical increase of those covered under dependent health care. His classes evaluate such changes in numbers and discuss why it’s happening.

Sasha Hasanagic, a Bowling Green senior majoring in health care administration, has been studying policies of the Affordable Care Act.

“Health care is always changing — it’s very complex,” Hasanagic said. “I think in the long run, there will be positive changes. Eventually it should boost the economy.”

While there are positive possibilities for the Affordable Health Care Act, there are many challenges along the way. One major issue that health care administrators are dealing with is the implementation of re-admission fines.

The Affordable Care Act states that hospitals with patients re-admitted within 30 days are subject to penalties. The reasoning behind the law is that patients should receive a higher quality of care, remaining at health facilities until they are in optimal condition.

This is leading to a higher demand for ACOs, Accountable Care Organizations, developed to provide proper care for patients with long-term health issues. These organizations are currently run by volunteers in the health care industry, designed to serve those enrolled in Medicare programs.

Hospitals are also struggling to fill orders for procedures like MRIs, which were filled by volume in the past but are now evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

“People doing their residencies talk about the stress that’s overtaking management because of these changes,” Griffith said. “It’s a very trying time to be in the health care industry.

“This is not an industry where you want to go to work every day and deal with the same thing over and over. If you want a job like this health care is not for you, because right now it is in a state of change.”

Enrollment for health care through the Affordable Care act is available until March. Health coverage benefits will begin in January. Kentuckians can enroll for insurance through the website