On Obamacare, the Magic 8-Ball Says “Reply Hazy”…

by Michael Fricke
Cover, Evans & Fricke LLP

With looming unknowns, you must educate yourself and plan ahead for the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Pop quiz. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” will have which of the following consequences?

(a) Provide more affordable healthcare for a greater proportion of Americans than ever before; 
(b) Cause significant health insurance premium increases and tax hikes, eventually followed by rationing of care and government control of American healthcare; 
(c) Stamp out all sickness, poverty, war and unpleasantness in the world, complete with rainbows and puppy dogs for everyone; 
(d) Initiate the downfall of the world economy and the end of the American dream, and eventually, usher in Armageddon.

If you happened to watch either MSNBC or Fox News for more than five seconds in the last two years, you would be forgiven for answering (c) or (d). Fortunately, (d) is pretty unlikely. Sadly, (c) is also pretty unlikely. In reality, Obamacare will likely result in either (a) or (b), or, perhaps most likely, some combination of the two. The truth is that while a handful of people in the world may have read and understood all of its provisions and have the ability to accurately predict its outcomes, for the vast majority of us, the effects of Obamacare are largely unpredictable. As former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said, “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it.” Unfortunately, not many of us know a whole lot about what’s in it, even two years after its passage.

Known and Unknown
For many of us, especially business owners and those in the medical/health insurance professions, this can be quite scary. There has been no shortage of rhetoric concerning the possible negative effects that Obamacare might have once fully implemented. I certainly don’t claim to know how it will all shake out, nor will I use this article to pass judgment on the legislation itself. What is certain, however, is that there are productive and nonproductive ways to deal with the uncertainty of any situation, including the looming healthcare overhaul, and it behooves us all to do our best to handle the uncertainty in as productive a way as possible.

To that end, we will discuss three strategies we can all use right now to help eliminate the stress of the unknown repercussions of Obamacare. First, we must educate ourselves. Fear comes mostly from that which is unknown. Once we can wrap our minds around something, it becomes less intimidating, as we can then plan for it. Thus, while phrases like “death panels” and “single-payer” add tremendously to the angst surrounding Obamacare, very few pundits care to actually wade through the murky waters of the legislation itself to find out what it really says.

Knowing what the law says and which of its provisions will affect you and your business is the first step to reducing uncertainty. Will it require you to change the benefits you offer your employees? Will it increase your premiums? How about your taxes? What if you want to change plans or have a pre-existing condition? These are all questions that have at least partial answers to be found within the Act itself. Good luck finding it on your own, though. At upwards of 400,000 words, the legislation is about as long as four novels. Thankfully, there are resources available to assist you. You could consult an attorney—always a stellar idea!—or, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you could look to one of the nonpartisan think tanks and research centers that have taken the time to read the law and put its provisions into plain language. The nonpartisan part is fairly important, though.

Make a Plan
Once we have educated ourselves as much as possible about Obamacare’s impact on us, there are still two steps to take in order to alleviate as much dread as possible. The first is to make a plan. If you know that your premiums will change, start preparing your budgeting process now to include those changes. If you know you will need to switch insurance providers, begin the search now, not later. And for those factors that are still uncertain even after educating yourself, create contingency plans. If you’re expecting your taxes to go up two percent, what is your contingency plan if they instead go up three percent? Having a plan for as many foreseeable outcomes as possible gives you a roadmap to return to as the legislation plays out in the real world. You can always tweak your plans, but it’s better to have a foundation from which to build than to try to scrape something together at the last minute.

Finally, even with all of our education and planning, there will still be consequences of Obamacare that we cannot know. And for these, we must simply accept the fact that some things are out of our control, and force ourselves to stop worrying about them. Granted, this is easier said than done, but what other choice do we have?

Is Obamacare going to thrust some major changes on our healthcare system in the coming years? Absolutely. Do we need to sit around fretting about its impact on our businesses and our lives? No way. Educate yourself. Make a plan. Accept that some things are unknown and out of your control for the time being. iBi

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