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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Radiologist technician Michelle Alvord writes on a chart Thursday in the cardiac cath lab at St. Joseph Hospital.

Providers expect to expand

Other industries relieved decision removes uncertainty

Thursday’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act clears the way for northeast Indiana’s health care providers to expand.

Within hours of the announcement, officials were talking about ramping up spending on staff, equipment and – possibly – buildings.

Such investments could help drive the region’s economic recovery, officials said. Health care spending accounted for almost 18 percent of U.S. gross national product in 2010, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And the local economy received a significant boost from more than half a billion dollars spent on hospital construction projects in the past five years.

Local employers in other industries simply are relieved that the uncertainty has ended.

The local health care providers haven’t had the luxury of waiting for the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Mike Packnett, president and CEO of Parkview Health, said his staff have been up to their elbows in preparing for the Affordable Care Act since the day it was passed.

“Nothing was ever put on the back burner,” he said.

Packnett is preparing to meet increased health care demands placed on the system by people who will be newly covered by health insurance in coming months.

He plans to beef up numbers of family practice doctors, internists and pediatricians on Parkview’s payroll.

Hospitals and physicians’ offices nationwide will experience similar increases in demand, which will make recruiting even fiercer than it is now, he said.

Joe Dorko, president and CEO of Lutheran Health Network, said the Affordable Care Act will ensure hospitals are paid for services. That’s not the case now.

“We give care to everybody, regardless of their ability to pay,” he said.

The additional income will be channeled into growth, he said, adding that Lutheran has adequate space to handle increased patient volume.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to meet the growing needs of the community because of having that extra compensation coming in,” he said.

Both hospital systems have been working with IPFW, the University of Saint Francis and schools to ensure that a steady stream of nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants and nurse practitioners are graduating.

The Supreme Court ruling, released just after 10 a.m., “definitely surprised a lot of the experts,” said Tom Markle, a Fort Wayne-based Barrett & McNagny partner who confines his legal practice to employee benefits.

Some northeast Indiana employers were “absolutely” waiting to see whether the act would be struck down before putting plans in place to meet its requirements, he said.

Local employers and the firms that serve them are now trudging forward with efforts to comply. Old National Insurance Group Inc., for example, will offer a two-hour seminar on the Affordable Care Act for its employer clients.

“There’s been such great uncertainty,” said Denny Wright, Old National’s vice president of new business development. “A massive amount of change” in health care insurance offerings is required by 2014, he said.

Markle predicted that some smaller employers will choose to pay the required penalty rather than offer health insurance plans to their workers. In some cases, the penalty will be cheaper.

Dawn Rosemond, a partner with Barnes & Thornburg, said the court’s decision underscores individual responsibility for health and wellness.

“In fact, expect employers and insurers to create incentive programs and, where appropriate, mandates to promote healthier living as they look for ways to balance costs,” she said in an email.

Mike Landram, Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce president, said the decision brings relief.

“Our businesses – our members – are going to be able to look to the future and start the planning process.”

One item on that agenda will be lobbying against the 2.3 percent medical devices tax scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1. The region’s orthopedics devices industry, which is headquartered in Warsaw, has warned for months of impending job cuts if that piece of the Affordable Care Act takes effect.

A bill has been introduced in Congress to overturn the tax, but even Republicans agree that its prospects are dim as long as Democrats control the White House and the Senate.