The Rappaport Center hosts talk on Affordable Care Act

By: Sam Humphrey

Several dozen people arrived at Sargent Hall Thursday morning for a debate on the much-discussed Obamacare, hosted by Suffolk University Law School.

Suffolk Law School’s Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service hosted the public event titled “Health Care Reform Comes Home II: How the Affordable Care Act Will Affect Massachusetts Employers.”

Law and medical students, professors, local business owners, and concerned citizens filed in at 8 a.m. to listen as four experts dissected the complicated ACA and its impact on employers.

Moderator Michael Caljouw sits on the Rappaport Center’s Advisory Board, and is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs. Recognizing the diverse views of the panelists, Caljouw promised to keep “this debate lively and informative.”

Brian Rosman, Research Director of Health Care for All, started the debate off by noting that while large and complex, the ACA can help small businesses get a leg up.

Rosman noted that before the ACA’s implementation, insurers charged small businesses more than larger companies.

“We’ve seen that a lot of small business owners are confused and don’t think that Obamacare can help them,” he said. “They don’t know how to take advantage of [its] benefits.”

Josh Archambault, of Boston’s Pioneer Institute, countered Rosman, saying that small businesses “are still overwhelmed. Employers have a lot of regulations to comply with and they simply can’t keep track of everything the ACA requires of them.”

Rosman noted that Obamacare “gives [employers] a lot of tools to deal with medical costs.” He also said that Massachusetts consumers spend too much on hospital and doctor costs, among other health care expenses.

Jean Russell, who founded BenefitsMart LLC to advise companies on providing insurance for their employees, agreed that employers are confused by Obamacare. She noted that profits will decrease as health insurance premiums increase, and that companies are “burdened by its regulations.”

Audrey Morse Gasteier, a director at Massachusetts’ Health Connector, defended the ACA and said that, once implemented, employers would benefit greatly.

“If employers truly understood the law and know what they have to be aware of, the ACA wouldn’t be so scary to them.”

Gasteier said that employers needed to understand certain rules that would help them, but did not have to understand the entire law. She also noted that the ACA “tries to boost competition and transparency in the health care market, which is good small businesses.”

Looking to the future, Archambault said “the federal government will have to defer to the states to run the exchanges.” Since Massachusetts already mandates its residents purchase health care, he said the state should request waivers to determine that Obamacare’s implementation does not unnecessarily burden residents.

Rosman noted that when Obamacare became law, the US
House of Representatives wanted the feds to run Obamacare’s exchanges, while the Senate preferred that the states had more control. He said that states should be able to implement the exchanges, but within certain government guidelines.

Attendees had a chance to ask the panel questions at the end of the debate. Despite the early start and the complex topic, those who showed up walked away with new information, and hopefully, less of a headache than when they arrived.