Chamber gathers professionals for forum

Health care leaders say they're worried about the costs of providing patient services while complying with regulations of President Obama's reform plan that makes care available and affordable for more people.

Michael Blackburn, chief executive officer of Frye Regional Medical Center, said hospitals face having to deal with more patients while getting less reimbursement from programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

"The biggest thing to me is we aren't going to be reimbursed very well," Blackburn said. "More people will be covered, but I'm losing more money on more people."

Blackburn was among more than 100 business professionals who gathered Thursday in Newton to discuss challenges created by government health care reform.

The Catawba County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum at the Newton Expo that included health care employers, insurance providers and general consumers.

"It's up to the Chamber to bring providers and insurance companies together and get as much information about health care legislation out there as we can," said Danny Hearn, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber. "Health care reform has caused quite a negative stir in the business community. I'd rather see businesses reinvest in their companies than pay for government regulations. When you're mandated to do things like this, it hits your bottom line."

At the forum, health care providers and business leaders comprised panels that discussed concerns about how reform affects costs and services.

Health care employers and insurance providers fear reform law – which makes services affordable and accessible to more people – will lead to longer wait times for patients, said Lori Alala, a moderator for the forum and a partner with insurance broker Carolina First Associates LLC.

"It's a tough situation with decreases in revenue from Medicare and Medicaid and increases in expenses for taking care of patients," Alala said. "We all have concerns about the legislation. It will impact us all on different levels based on whether you're an employer, a provider or a consumer. And we're all consumers."

Dr. Brian Vierling, of Conover Family Practice and Crown Health Care, said a shift to keeping records electronically is another challenge for care providers. He and other providers at the forum said secure management of the records is a concern.

J. Anthony Rose, president and chief executive officer of Catawba Valley Medical Center, believes electronic records do provide positives to patients and hospitals. He said CVMC, Frye and Caldwell Medical Center in Lenoir are working on a system that will allow the hospitals to share patient records.

"This information system could help eliminate what we call 'frequent fliers,' people who go into emergency rooms often in search of a certain something," Rose said.

Members of the provider panel agreed that the best thing Americans can do to stem health care costs is maintain a healthier lifestyle. They mentioned poor habits – such as overeating that leads to obesity and smoking that leads to cancers and other illnesses – that lead to higher costs for patient care.

"It costs a lot of money to help someone who's trying to hurt themselves," Blackburn said. "I think one of the burdens is going to fall to hospitals in trying to preserve medical services and meet needs."