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Getting Up to Speed on Healthcare

Panel discussion addresses small business issues with Affordable Health Care Act.

From left, Bridget Bean, director of the U.S. Small Business Association, Joanne Corte Grossi, regional director the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and William Hazel, the Virginia secretary of health and human resources, speak during a panel discussion at the Westin Dulles Friday, Nov. 16.

From left, Bridget Bean, director of the U.S. Small Business Association, Joanne Corte Grossi, regional director the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and William Hazel, the Virginia secretary of health and human resources, speak during a panel discussion at the Westin Dulles Friday, Nov. 16. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

The Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion Friday, Nov. 16 at the Dulles Westin, to examine the effects of the Affordable Health Care Act on business owners. Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources William Hazel joined Bridget Bean, director of the U.S. Small Business Administration and Joanne Corte Grossi, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to discuss ways that all businesses could be affected.

“In the wake of last week’s election coupled with Virginia’s recent decision on the health benefits exchange, businesses of all sizes remain perplexed by health care reform, its complexity and its implementation,” said C. Michael Ferrero, chairman of the chamber’s board. “It’s clear that help is needed to understand what impacts will be.”

Grossi said that health care costs are a constant concern for small businesses.

“Small businesses on average pay 18 percent more for the exact same health care, this is not ok when health care is the number one issue small businesses put forth as an area of concern,” Grossi said. “In 1986, a White House conference on small business identified health care as their number one concern, and we still have this problem today.”

Hazel said his department has already put out feelers into the small business community to see what people already know, and that they’ve found they have their work cut out for them.

“The Virginia Health Department has a task force looking at it. We’ve got focus groups, where we surveyed about 1,200 small business owners around the state, and the state of understanding of the act is pretty dismal,” Hazel said.

Bean said her organization has already planned to make education and outreach to business owners a top priority next year.

“At the Small Business Administration, we’re going to make this a principal issue for us starting in 2013, we’re going to do a series of educational seminars with small businesses, chambers like this one, health care providers, so that we can really educate small businesses on their responsibilities,” she said. “In Virginia, it’s time to get actively involved, because it will impact businesses. Whether it’s figuring out what the state is doing or advocating on your own account, you need to be part of the process.”

The U.S. currently spends the highest percentage of their gross domestic product on healthcare among any nation, and Hazel said that the numbers do not favor businesses, especially small ones.

“We spent 18.5 percent of our GDP on health care in the U.S.,” he said. “The challenge for business is that the second most percentage of GDP in the world spent on health care is Switzerland, they spend about 11.5 percent on health care.”

More importantly, said Grossi, the money spent doesn’t seem to be adding up to.

“Not only do we spend the most out of anyone in the world, but we’re not getting the health outcomes for it. We’re 45th in terms of life expectancy, 29th in terms of infant mortality rate,” Grossi said. “That’s the whole point of the Affordable Health Care Act. Not only are we spending more, but we have 51 million people without insurance. It’s about how do we save money in the system, and provide better health outcomes. It’s about making true systemic changes.”