Blue Cross/Blue Shield CEO: ‘Misinformation, political jousting’ tied up in Obamacare

Hank Hayes • Jul 11, 2013 at 8:27 AM

KINGSPORT — Obamacare is bringing both chaos and disruption to health care, but there are some positives, Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BCBS) of Tennessee CEO Bill Gracey told the Kingsport Rotary Club on Wednesday.“You’re going to have a lot of friends and neighbors saying ‘What is this?’ ” Gracey said of the federal health care reform law’s key provisions taking effect on Jan. 1, 2014.Gracey noted employers are still trying to figure out the Obama administration’s recent decision to delay a requirement to provide health insurance for their workers until 2015.“We are not anticipating other administration changes, and I was surprised about this one,” Gracey said of the delay. “It may have been politically motivated or preparation motivated. ... It may have been they just weren’t ready to tackle it. There’s so much to deal with.”The delay, which could raise new questions about whether Obamacare will be implemented on time, comes amid widespread complaints from businesses about reporting requirements for employers with 50 or more full-time workers.Companies would have had to pay the Internal Revenue Service $2,000 for each full-time employee who did not get health coverage, beginning Jan. 1, when the law was scheduled to come into full effect.But federal officials, Gracey noted, insist they will not push back an Oct. 1 start time for people to enroll in state or federal health insurance exchanges called for in the law.“Every government officer we’ve talked to becomes adamant when you ask that question, they say ‘No, we’re doing this heck or high water one way or the other,’ ” Gracey said of open enrollment for the exchanges, a new marketplace for those not on Medicaid or employer-based health insurance.BCBS has projected 900,000 Tennesseans would be eligible to enroll in a health insurance exchange run by the federal government. Tennessee’s state government decided against running its own exchange.In an email, Tennessee Healthcare Finance and Administration spokeswoman Kelly Gunderson said BCBS, CIGNA, Humana, Coventry Health & Life and Community Health Alliance have filed to be providers in the state’s federal health insurance exchange. The federal government is expected to announce Tennessee’s exchange insurance providers in September.Gracey said BCBS has made a commitment to serve both high risk and healthy risk people in the exchange.“We have a mission, and it is to serve the people of this great state,” he told Rotarians.

But Gracey also said his personal opinion is that many people eligible to enroll in the exchange by computer portal just won’t do it. “I think it will be a slow uptake,” he said of exchange enrollees.Gracey acknowledged there’s a lot of “emotion, misinformation and political jousting” tied up in the health care reform law.“At the end of the day it is here,” Gracey said of the law. “It is the law of the land. Its intent, I think, is positive. It was put in place because we do have some opportunities in our health care system, the most expensive health care system in the world. Our outcomes are not better, generally, than other developed countries. ... It’s very good, but a very expensive health care system.”The law will expand access to health care, but Gracey said that access will increase cost.“The doctors, the hospitals cannot give out free care without them having to raise the cost to the paying patient. ... We will have to cover pre-existing conditions, essential health benefits, taxes and fees,” Gracey observed. “What we’re worried about most is the blame for increased cost will go on who? ... Me.”

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