Experts Examine Affordable Care Act at USC Price Athenian Panel

Experts Examine Affordable Care Act at USC Price Athenian Panel

By Matthew Kredell

Athenian Panel Panelists, from left: Herb Schultz, Mark Gamble, Benjamin Chu and moderator Mike Nichol
Photo by Tom Queally

The USC Sol Price School of Public Policy’s Athenian Society hosted a distinguished panel on Sept. 18 to discuss an issue that affects every person in the United States, regardless of age or economic status — the changes in health care due to the Affordable Care Act.

The event was part of the Dean’s Speaker Series presented by the Athenian Society, the premier philanthropic support group for USC Price. The theme for the 2012-13 speaker series is “The Challenge of Change.”

USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott opened the evening by citing the latest data on health care in the U.S. from the Census Bureau. The number of uninsured Americans in 2011 declined by 1.3 million, which still left the total of uninsured at 48.6 million. More than 10 percent of children in the U.S. are uninsured.

“The challenges we face in the health care system are much more complicated than extending insurance,” Knott said in his introduction. “We face cost projections that are simply unsustainable, wide variability in quality of care, severe inefficiencies in health care delivery and inequalities in access to types of care. The challenge is to find a path that addresses these issues and extends insurance and access to coverage to everyone in this society, and that is a really big challenge politically, economically and institutionally.”

Michael B. Nichol, director of graduate programs at USC Price, moderated a panel that featured Herb K. Schultz, a regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Mark Gamble, a senior vice president for the Hospital Association of Southern California, and Benjamin K. Chu, president of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California region.

The Affordable Care Act is being implemented in stages after it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.

“We in the Obama administration always did believe that the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act was going to be upheld,” Schultz said. “We’ve been at work, together with communities and the public, private and nonprofit sectors, implementing the Affordable Care Act since day one.”

Schultz explained that there are three main goals of the Affordable Care Act. The first is increasing access and expanding coverage of health insurance. The main component to this is the mandate for individuals to be covered by an acceptable insurance policy or face a fine at tax time beginning in 2014.

The second focus is on consumer protections. Insurance companies will no longer have unchecked power to deny coverage due to a preexisting condition or charge women more than men, for example. The law already has helped 5.3 million seniors and people with disabilities save an average of over $600 each on prescription drugs.

Third is to increase quality while containing costs through delivery system reforms and interventions. This goal challenges all elements of the health care delivery system.

“Hospitals, physicians and health plans, we’re all going to struggle with how you do this without really crippling the system,” Gamble said.

Gamble, whose association includes 184 hospitals, said that many services that are being provided in an inpatient setting are going to move to an outpatient setting. Chu noted that one out of five Medicare recipients discharged from the hospital are readmitted within 30 days.

“If we can figure out ways to keep people well during that period of time, to prevent that return to the hospital, there’s going to be some savings,” Chu said.

Schultz said the Obama administration wants the health care system to transition to a focus on prevention and wellness. Rather than people only going to the hospital when they are sick or have a major health issue, there will be incentives provided for people to get screenings and prevent major issues from occurring. The act creates a $10 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund that will be used for programs at the local, state and federal level to fight obesity, curb tobacco use and increase access to preventive care services.

In addition, the discussion on the Affordable Care Act attracted about 20 students from the USC Price Master of Health Administration program.

“The reception and panel gave me a chance to network with leaders in the health care industry,” said Pooja Patel, a first-year MHA student. “During the panel, I got to learn a lot about the Affordable Care Act that I didn’t know, like about managed care and how California is very different from other states.”

“They supported what we are learning in the classroom with what is actually happening,” said Sarah Kakwani, another first-year MHA student. “There were a few details that they summed up really nicely that are very important, like how patient surveys will affect hospital funding.”

The next event in the Athenian Society Dean’s Speaker Series will be on the challenge of politics in America Oct. 24 with a discussion on the 2012 presidential election.