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Uncertain future for local health care pros in new year

President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a platform that included a promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare,” raising questions about how health insurance could change in 2017.

Local hospitals and health insurance brokers are preparing by keeping a close eye on how the new administration is taking shape, including any developments regarding Mr. Trump’s goals and cabinet appointments.

Paul Connor, CEO and president of Eastern Long Island Hospital, said last Tuesday that the hospital is politically neutral and needs both elected Republicans and Democrats who want to work on its behalf, but that there does not seem to be a plan in place just yet to replace the ACA.

“It’s going to be a very, very big challenge for them to come up with something that provides this level of coverage and costs less or is better,” Mr. Connor said. “It would be great to see something that improves what we have already and makes it less expensive. At this point, if they were serious about doing this, it would have been already done, in place, ready to go. The fact is that it’s not and I think that’s what troubles me the most.”

He said the hospital will keep its ear to the rail as the Republican Party’s agenda on health care becomes more clear in terms of the mechanics of a new law and health coverage.

“I think we’re going to take a look at what begins to happen and some of the thinking,” Mr. Connor said. “We’re hearing dribs and drabs and when you hear a consistent line coming out of the Trump administration and you begin to see who the cabinet members are for Health and Human Services, then you’re going to get an idea, perhaps.”

At Peconic Bay Medical Center, it’s business as usual in the meantime, but the hospital will watch out for and adapt to policy changes should they arise, president and CEO Andrew Mitchell said Monday.

“It’s premature to really know if there are going to be changes and what they are so we’re continuing to move ahead down the pathway that we’ve been with our partnership with Northwell Health and their insurance product CareConnect,” he said. “We’ll continue to offer a low-cost, high-quality option to all the residents on the East End and we’ll monitor it as we go.”

A statement on Mr. Trump’s campaign website gives a rough sketch of what might be in store: “The Administration’s goal will be to create a patient-centered health care system that promotes choice, quality and affordability with health insurance and health care, and take any needed action to alleviate the burdens imposed on American families and business by the law.”

Days after the election, Mr. Trump was noted for taking a slightly scaled-back approach to the current health care law. In a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Nov. 13 on CBS, he told Lesley Stahl that he would keep the law’s provision that prohibits insurance companies from refusing to cover someone for a pre-existing condition.

If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, Mr. Trump does not anticipate there being a period where there is no government program in place, he told “60 Minutes.”

“It will be repealed and replaced,” he said. “And we’ll know. And it’ll be great health care for much less money. So it’ll be better health care, much better, for less money. Not a bad combination.”

Insurance broker Anthony Cardona of Cardona & Company in Water Mill said he’s been reading up on news about health care laws and noted that it would be difficult to repeal the law if there is nothing to offer in its place.

“They might switch things around and play around with it, but it all comes down to math for me,” Mr. Cardona said. “I don’t see how premiums are going to be lowered. I’d love to see it for myself and all my clients and everyone who’s struggling to pay them, but I just don’t see how premiums could be lowered.”

Both Mr. Cardona and Karl Washwick, president of the Washwick Agency Inc., based in Riverhead, said that in anticipation of any new laws, people should not expect the cost of health insurance to really change unless the cost of health care itself is lowered.

Mr. Washwick said he is also preparing for any potential changes by staying educated. In the meantime, his advice to the public is, “Relax.”

“We’ll get through it,” he said, adding, “I hope they do something to bring the prices down or at least have that as a goal.”

Photo Credit: Michael/Flickr

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