A Publication of WTVP

No single issue in the last year has generated more heated discussions than the topic of healthcare reform. Signed into law on March 23, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is one of the most controversial and far-reaching pieces of legislation in U.S. history. And the battle is far from over.

Some of the law’s provisions have already taken effect, and despite widespread hopes for its repeal, employers are now focused on compliance. That’s no easy matter when the legislation—all 2,700 pages of it—is practically unintelligible to the layperson…and even to most healthcare professionals.

Against this backdrop, employer healthcare costs are projected to rise 8.2 percent in 2011, according to a Towers Watson survey of 466 large and midsized employers conducted last August. As such, employers are rethinking their long-term benefit strategies. In the same survey, 59 percent of respondents said that they plan to implement significant or moderate changes to their healthcare plans in 2011, while 67 percent plan to do so in 2012.

As employers struggle to make sense of the complexities surrounding these new regulatory guidelines, no one knows where this will all end up. The November elections brought political change to Washington, but it’s far from clear what that will mean for healthcare reform. The legal issues are murky and confusing; at last count, 26 states have joined a lawsuit to challenge the new law. Recent court decisions have been contradictory, and nearly all observers expect that the issue will have to be resolved by the Supreme Court. Whatever happens, it seems that “years of wrangling lie ahead,” as one recent headline stated.

And that’s just another layer of uncertainty for employers in central Illinois, still reeling from the state income tax hike and feeling the fallout of an excruciatingly slow economic recovery. And despite its professed aims, the legislation still does not adequately address the major drivers of healthcare costs—now at nearly 18 percent of the national GDP and counting…

As a small business owner myself, I fear that the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance is becoming more than the company and our employees can afford. And that’s something that I struggle with, as I’ve experienced firsthand the devastation that a major illness can cause, both on one’s family and in the workplace.

On the other hand, we’ve highlighted some of the many positive trends that are reshaping the healthcare landscape: electronic information exchange, breakthroughs in cancer research, a continued focus on wellness, and the launch of initiatives to battle obesity and increase healthy lifestyles in our schools.

Healthcare is the second-largest industry in the local economy—and the fastest growing. Driven by an aging Baby Boomer population, that growth may be one of the few certainties in the healthcare world today. Most certainly, it will be a wild and bumpy ride. iBi