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Will Obamacare Help or Hurt Rhode Islanders and Local Businesses?

From left, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts; Christine Ferguson, director of HealthSource RI; and Amy Gallagher, vice president of major accounts at the Cornerstone Group.

From left, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts; Christine Ferguson, director of HealthSource RI; and Amy Gallagher, vice president of major accounts at the Cornerstone Group.

 

A nine-person panel of local health care officials, health care leaders and corporate executives debated this topic at Rhode Island College last week in a sold-out forum titled “Obamacare in R.I.: Health or Hindrance?” sponsored by The Providence Journal in partnership with RIC and Leadership Rhode Island.

The panel discussed a variety of issues associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into by law by President Barack Obama that, among other things, will require every United States citizen to have health insurance.

More than 400 Rhode Islanders attended the event to hear about Obamacare’s implementation, as well as what the panelists advocated as benefits and disadvantages to the first major health care reform the country has had since President Lyndon Johnson introduced Medicare in 1965.

“Our health care system is broken,” said Dr. Timothy Babineau, president and CEO of Lifespan, the state’s largest health care system and largest employer. “Health care has become the number one societal, political and economic issue of our time. It threatens to bankrupt our country.”

Most panelists agreed with Babineau in that the United States needs a health care overhaul that will make health insurance more affordable for individuals and small business owners, and that will, hopefully, increase the use of primary care physicians and preventative care, reduce emergency room visits and unnecessary medical tests and expenses.

Dr. Nick Tsiongas, founder of HealthRIght, a coalition dedicated to enacting health care reform that will lead to healthier lives for Rhode Islanders, said Obamacare may not be perfect, but something had to change. “What is our other choice,” he said. “Our current health care system has killed more jobs over decades than Obamacare ever could.”

Jose Garcia, a small business owner and board member of the Blackstone Valley Merchants Association, said Obamacare will allow him to offer his employees health insurance – something that will give him an advantage in attracting quality professionals.

But not every panelist saw things the same way.

Donald Nokes, president of the R.I. Business Group on Health, a nonprofit membership organization that advocates for Rhode Island businesses input on health care, said large businesses won’t see a reduction in the health care they provide employees and that Obamacare could affect hiring and layoff decisions if those businesses have to pay more for older employees’ insurance.

Amy Gallagher, vice president for major accounts at the Cornerstone Group, was perhaps the most outspoken panelist against Obamacare.  She said health care reform should focus on “reducing poverty and obesity” instead of changes that will are only “bandaging a system.”

The Providence Journal’s 2013 Publick Occurrences series concludes Thursday, Nov. 7, with “Young Men and Guns: How Do We Stop the Violence?” The event is free, but registration is required. The event will run from 6 to 8 p.m. in RIC’s Sapinsley Hall.