Doctor Eldery Patient

Special to the Civic Association By Tim Pallesen.

Palm Beach residents will hear how the Affordable Care Act will impact patients, doctors and hospitals at a Tuesday community forum.

“People need to understand the changes so they can react and have a voice,” said Dr. Michael Dennis, who will moderate the forum sponsored by the Palm Beach Civic Association.

The federal legislation known as Obamacare mandates health insurance for 30 million who don’t have it now.  Patients with preexisting conditions can’t be denied coverage. Children up to age 26 will be covered by a parent’s policy if they are not working.  Seniors on Medicare may get their prescription drugs for a lower cost and free preventative checkups.

But the sweeping changes bring concern whether Palm Beach residents will continue to have access to quality health care. The aim is to reduce the nation’s medical care costs by eliminating unnecessary doctor and hospital expenses. But estimates are Obamacare will cut Medicare by $716 billion over the next 10 years to help pay for $1.9 trillion in new health care spending for younger people.

Doctors and hospitals fear the added regulation and record keeping that the new legislation will require. It might become more difficult to find a doctor and some hospitals might close.

Dr. Dennis, the former chairman of the town’s Medical Care Commission, worries about what decisions a myriad of new regulatory panels might make.

“Obamacare was hastily designed,” Dr. Dennis said. “The end-of-life decisions worry me. For example, who decides if a person on renal dialysis with no chance of recovery should die?”

The impact of new regulations on Good Samaritan Medical Center, the hospital that serves Palm Beach, will be particularly important to monitor.

Panelists for the 10 a.m. Tuesday forum at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church will include Mark Nosaka, the CEO of Good Samaritan Medical Center.
The benefit for hospitals once health insurance is mandatory will be that they no longer have to absorb the cost of uninsured patients in their emergency rooms.

But hospitals will face fines if patients need to be readmitted. St. Mary’s Medical Center faces a $11 million reduction in Medicare payments this year. And the added cost for record keeping because of Obamacare might force some small hospitals out of business.

Competition among the 19 hospitals in Palm Beach County is intense. Good Samaritan, although licensed for 338 beds, averages only 50 to 60 patients. Tenet Healthcare, which owns Good Samaritan, has promised to keep the hospital open.

Experts at the community forum also will examine the factors to determine whether it will become more difficult for Palm Beach residents to find a doctor because of Obamacare. Many doctors are leaving their practices because of cuts in their Medicare reimbursements. Others are limiting their new Medicare patients because of the new health care reforms.

The other forum panelists will be internist Dr. David Dodson, public policy attorney Judy Goodman, and health insurance expert Richard Bernstein.

The forum is organized by the Health Care Committee of the Civic Association, chaired by Michael Stein and Dr. Richard Conroy. “The Civic Association is concerned with issues that affect its members,” Mr. Stein said. “Health care will be a major issue in the next year or two.”