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Economic impacts of ‘ObamaCare’ discussed at Bethlehem forum

By Kevin Lechiski, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 03 2012 11:32:47 PM CDT
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

A few hours before the Presidential candidates took center stage for their first head-to-head debate, the Lehigh Valley Coalition for Health Care Reform hosted a public forum on one of this political campaign season’s hot-button topics: “ObamaCare.”

About 25 people turned out for the Wednesday evening forum at the Bethlehem Area Public Library that discussed how the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (often referred to as “ObamaCare”) is impacting business, jobs and the economy.

Speakers during the evening included Lehigh Valley Tax Limitation Committee Chairman John F. Brinson, retired internal medicine specialist Dr. Thomas Bonekemper, and Dr. Christine Bongiorno, chairperson of the non-profit grassroots Lehigh Valley Coalition for Health Care Reform that is seeking to repeal and replace the 2010 healthcare act.

Brinson, a small business owner who produces the Pennsylvania Crossfire weekly TV program, told attendees not to buy into claims that “ObamaCare” will improve both the quality of and access to affordable healthcare.

Quoting author P.J. O’Rourke, Brinson said, “If you think healthcare is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free.”

According to Brinson, the 2010 healthcare act is estimated to cost more than $7 trillion to fully implement. He estimates the government will need to add hundreds of thousands of employees to manage the law’s thousands of pages of regulations and that business owners will face overwhelming costs to adhere to the law‘s requirements.

“Markets cannot be managed from the top. If you try, bad things happen,” he said, noting as examples President Nixon’s ill-fated attempt to fix gas prices that led to severe shortages and the former Soviet Union’s attempts to control every aspect of its economy.

Brinson does acknowledge a need to reform the current healthcare system, which he said is already the world’s best. He said reform must be accomplished though “market-driven solutions” as opposed to “a government takeover.”

Bonekemper spoke on the impacts of a 2.3 percent excise tax on the manufacturers of medical devices.

“This is only one of many new taxes in the health care law, and it will cause a huge loss of jobs, not to mention the unfair impact on those who need medical devices, since the tax will be passed along to consumers or result in reduced budgets for research and development of new products. This will have a particularly negative impact on the economy here in the Lehigh Valley, which is home to many medical device manufacturers,” said Bonekemper. “From what I read, there are 360,000 employees with 60 companies nationwide that could be hurt by the 2.3% excise tax, and that’s just one aspect of how the ACA will hurt businesses that create jobs.”

Bongiorno said she fears the costs both small and large businesses face to comply with the law will result in a combination of employers: hiring new workers at lower salaries, conducting layoffs, hiring more part-timers, outsourcing, and implementing pay freezes for existing employees.

“Employers will have less to spend on their businesses and employees,” she said. “You don’t need an economic degree to see that this is a formula for economic disaster.”

The Lehigh Valley Coalition for Health Care Reform -- which describes itself as a “non-partisan grassroots coalition of concerned citizens and health care professionals committed to educating the public about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and other measures and policies impacting America's health” -- endorses an eight-point plan of reform adopted by the national Docs 4 Patient Care organization:

1) Increase competition by allowing individuals to purchase health insurance across state lines.

2) Equalize the tax treatment of money spent for health insurance by employers and individuals.

3) Encourage the Health Savings Account qualified High Deductible Health Plan model as the basic structural health insurance model across the entire spectrum of health insurance options by broadening allowable use.

4) Promote transparency in medical costs.

5) Encourage medical liability reform.

6) Transform Medicare into a defined contribution program.

7) Restructure Medicaid to assist low-income families to purchase health insurance.

8) Encourage pooling.