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By Ann Doss Helms
Employees can expect to see more high-deductible health policies as employers try to control costs, a health researcher and former journalist told members of the Charlotte Chamber Friday.
And North Carolina’s economy will suffer from state lawmakers’ decision not to take federal money for Medicaid expansion, said Ceci Connolly, managing director for PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute.
“It’s not a political commentary,” said Connolly, a former health correspondent for the Washington Post and author of a book on the Affordable Care Act. “It’s pure dollars and cents.”
Connolly was a keynote speaker at the Charlotte Chamber’s health care summit, which drew about 450 people to the Westin Hotel. The event marked the chamber’s Healthy Charlotte fitness campaign and its push to market Charlotte as a national health care destination for patients and businesses.
Hospitals, doctors’ offices and other health care businesses employ more than 116,500 people in the Charlotte region and generate more than $6.2 billion in annual wages, the chamber reported.
But Connolly said those businesses lost out on “a serious revenue opportunity” when the state refused the Obamacare offer to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income residents with federal money. North and South Carolina are among 21 states that opted not to participate this year, leaving 689,000 low-income N.C. residents in a “Medicaid gap” without coverage.
“Your industries are suffering because you’re not getting the increased business,” she said.
Fellow panelist Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, agreed that this wasn’t a smart business decision: “Business people know the first principle of business is not to leave one dime on the table.”
Benjamin, a physician and former Maryland health secretary, told the chamber crowd that federal Medicaid money could have been used to improve mental health services, a need described earlier in the session by John Santopietro of Carolinas HealthCare System. “The beauty of Medicaid is it is run by the states,” Benjamin said. “They can do this. The governors can be creative.”
Several local speakers talked about efforts to control health care costs while improving care. Connolly said she expects to see employers take a leading role in coming years. One likely strategy, she said, is a continuing shift to high-deductible policies that hold down premiums by requiring patients to pay a bigger chunk of medical bills from their own pockets. Such policies force employees to think about spending their own money more wisely, Connolly said.
Technology is likely to play a role in helping patients take charge of their own health, from insurance companies offering online cost comparisons to a burgeoning industry in devices that monitor vital signs and exercise, several speakers said.
Connolly, who was wearing a wristband that monitors her steps, said she envisions a day when that data would feed to her doctor’s office so the doctor would be aware of changes in activity.