Consultant places blame on providers

Human resource professionals, small business owners discuss Affordable Care Act at local symposium

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 29, 2013 

A Jacksonville, Fla., health care consultant told more than 250 people Thursday at a local symposium that the industry was broken and the new Affordable Care Act -- more commonly called Obamacare -- is not going to fix it.

Brian Klepper, who also is a principle in We Care TLC, a company that operates health clinics including the employee clinic for West Point, Ga., automobile manufacturer Kia, points the blame for increasing costs on providers.

"There are no good guys or bad guys, only winners and losers," Klepper said. "The winners are everybody in health care with the exception of primary care doctors. Who loses? All the rest of us."

The Columbus Convention & Trade Center conference for human resource professionals and small business owners was sponsored by the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management.

Klepper used several examples including the cost of procedures such as hip replacements and stent implants. In the U.S., a hip replacement costs about $40,000, while a similar operation is about $7,700 in Spain. Stent surgery costs about four times more in the U.S. than in other countries, Klepper said.

While specialists are making more, Klepper pointed

to what he called a disturbing trend that primary care physicians are making less and disappearing.

"Some people say primary care is the easiest discipline," Klepper said. "That is not true. It's nonsense. Good primary care reduces the cost and improves outcomes. Still, primary care physicians make a fraction of what a specialist can make. When you pay an ophthalmologist five or six times as much as you pay a primary care physician, it is a crazy system. And, it has undermined the entire system."

Mark Strunk, director of the Pastoral Institute's Business Resource Center, said it is too general to assign the blame for skyrocketing costs on all health-care providers.

"He had a lot of statistics to support the growing cost of health care," Strunk said of Klepper's presentation. "I am in behavioral health, and we have not had an increase in four years. It is difficult for me to embrace the idea that all of health care is benefitting."

The health care industry is about 20 percent of the United States' economy.

"The health care law was written in large part by the health care industry to benefit the health care industry," Klepper said. "… The law is not going to solve the enormous problem. It is going to fall on the employers -- and it is not going to help to get rid of your employees."

Klepper said most employers, large and small, are struggling to navigate the new system.

"If you are an employer, you are in the widget business. You are not in the health care business," Klepper said. "You concentrate on making widgets and you are not focusing on health care. That is the problem."

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Georgia Democrat who voted for the Affordable Care Act, told the group he felt a little like Daniel being invited into the lion's den.

"Three and a half years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, it still evokes strong feelings -- for and against -- among Americans," Bishop said. "According to recent surveys, about half the American people passionately support it, while the other half vehemently oppose it."

There has been discussion among U.S. House Republican leadership to link funding for health care reform to a September deadline to increase the debt limit, Bishop said.

"Members of Congress have even suggested that they will oppose an increase in the debt limit unless the Affordable Care Act is defunded," Bishop said.

That would be a mistake, Bishop said, calling for cooler heads to prevail.

"I do not believe any reasonable member of Congress would want to force a shutdown or put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk merely because they oppose a law that is on the books, and survived constitutional scrutiny by the United States Supreme Court," he said.

Gill Cargill owns a small landscaping business and purchases his own health insurance. He said the cost has been escalating. He agrees with Klepper that this is a huge problem.

"I see this as a big problem with our nation," Cargill said. "My concern is we don't have a voice in Washington for all the people. The ones with the voice are in the health care industry. They are the ones with the lobbyists."

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