Poll finds WV residents expect premium costs to climb


Poll finds WV residents expect premium costs to climb

By Zack Harold

See original Daily Mail posting here – http://www.dailymail.com/News/201308290155

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS – The majority of West Virginians with insurance believe the federal Affordable Care Act will increase their premium costs, according to new results from the West Virginia Poll.

Meanwhile, a separate poll found two-thirds of state business owners believe the law will have a negative impact on their business.

The West Virginia Poll, conducted in partnership with the Daily Mail by R.L. Repass and Associates, surveyed 400 state residents earlier this month. It asked residents for their perspectives on the state’s economy and health care in particular.

Of the 400 respondents, 83 percent said they had health insurance. Among those, 43 percent said they had insurance that was partially paid by their employer or union, 30 percent had coverage through either Medicare or Medicaid, 10 percent purchased coverage for themselves, and 9 percent had a plan that was fully paid for by their employer or union.

The 330 respondents with insurance were asked whether they thought, based on what they’ve read or heard, if the Affordable Care Act, which is designed to increase access to coverage nationwide, will increase or decrease their current costs.

Sixty percent of those asked said they believed the law would increase their costs while just 6 percent said it will cause their premiums to go down. Another 23 percent said they thought their costs would stay the same while the rest were unsure.

The results were similar to a second poll conducted by Malone Consulting of Charleston for the state Chamber of Commerce that was unveiled earlier this week at the Chamber’s annual Business Summit at The Greenbrier.

That poll surveyed state Chamber members and asked if they thought the health care reform would have a positive or negative impact on their business.

Two-thirds said the law would have a negative impact – 22.5 percent said it would be a significant negative impact while 46 percent said it would have a somewhat negative impact.

Just 5 percent of state Chamber members said the law would have a positive impact on their business.

Dr. William Winkenwerder, president and chief executive officer at Pittsburgh-based insurance provider Highmark, told attendees at the Chamber summit Thursday that the law would increase access and affordability for those with pre-existing conditions or higher risk factors.

But he said that would be balanced by increasing costs on those who normally have less expensive insurance.

“Younger people are likely going to have to pay more, and sicker and more elderly people are likely to pay less,” Winkenwerder said.

He said the law caps the amount his company can charge a chronically ill person at five times more than what they would charge a regular, healthy individual.

While the law could increase access to younger people since they will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance well into their 20s, Winkenwerder said the question will be what those people in their later 20s choose to do.

While the law fines individuals who do not have insurance, and that mandate begins Jan. 1, he said he thinks most younger adults will find the fine more affordable than the premiums.

“I’m going to be interested to see if more young people sign up (for insurance) because of the way it increases their costs,” Winkenwerder said.

Winkenwerder, who was a practicing physician for most of his life, said there was not one “silver bullet” fix to bring down health care costs. He said it would take a community effort between government, businesses and individuals to bring down costs.

The vast majority of those costs, he said, are preventable.

While the aging baby boomer population is driving some demand, Winkenwerder said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that chronic disease stemming from physical inactivity, obesity, tobacco use and other lifestyle factors accounts for 75 percent of all U.S. health care spending.

“So three-quarters of our health care spending is theoretically preventable,” he said.

He also said studies have estimated 20 to 30 percent of health care costs are overly inflated due to overcharging for procedures, over-prescribing medications or diagnostic treatments and other fraud, waste and abuse.

He said that was an issue companies like Highmark can address. He said his company is beginning to network with area hospitals and doctors to find ways to bring down costs.

He also said his company is working to boost the transparency of medical costs. He pointed out most people can tell you the price of a gallon of gas, but they would have no idea what a medical provider would charge for things like a CT scan or colonoscopy exam because their insurance usually picks up the bill.

“With the things we buy and use our dollars for, we know what the cost is for it,” he said. “When someone else is paying for it, we have no clue what the cost is.”

Winkenwerder said by increasing the transparency of costs and the different rates charged by different health care providers might lead consumers to make more informed decisions on how they shop for care.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at 304-348-4836. 

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