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Drexel conference explores new health-care law

The new federal health-care law will allow sick and uninsured patients to apply for a high-risk insurance plan starting this month for less than $300 a month.

The new federal health-care law will allow sick and uninsured patients to apply for a high-risk insurance plan starting this month for less than $300 a month.

The measure may also cause more small hospitals to merge with large systems. And it will mean a lot more patients for family-doctor practices and hospitals that may not be able to handle the crush.

Those were some of the themes discussed during a daylong conference Friday at Drexel University on the new law and how it is being implemented in Pennsylvania.

Passed in the spring, the law will allow covered parents to insure their adult children up to age 26. It also bans insurers from placing lifetime dollar caps on coverage or rescinding plans except in cases of fraud.

By 2014, the law will insure an additional 32 million people, mostly by expanding Medicaid, and by requiring employers to provide health-care coverage or pay a fine. Money will come from new Medicare taxes on high-income earners, taxes on indoor tanning, and a penalty for those who do not acquire health insurance.

Among the law's immediate effects is the creation of a high-risk pool. The pool is meant to help people who have been uninsured for at least six months, who have a preexisting medical condition, and who can't get insurance.

Pennsylvania is receiving $160 million from the federal government for the plan, which would cost subscribers $283 a month.

The high-risk pool, known as PA Fair Care, will start this month, said Ann Torregrossa, director of the Governor's Office of Health Care Reform. She predicted 3,500 people would be enrolled by late 2011, and 6,000 by 2013.

The program will help those who apply earliest. Once the slots are full, a waiting list will begin. Prospective members can apply online at

More than 300,000 people are on the waiting list for adultBasic, the state's existing plan for uninsured adults, Torregrossa said. So "this funding is just a drop in the bucket."

"We can't move fast enough when it comes to implementing this law," she said. "I would have liked to have seen it go way further, but this at least is a starting point."

In another development, small, nonprofit hospitals are likely to become a dying breed, said Russ Molloy, vice president of government relations at Meridian Health, which spans Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic, and Middlesex Counties.

Their only chance of survival is to merge with large hospital systems, he said. With 11,000 employees, Meridian has six hospitals, including the Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

New legislation may encourage such consolidation by experimenting with "bundled payments" - paying a set price for care, rather than separate payments for each aspect.

There will be a new business model for hospitals, which has not happened since the introduction of Medicare in 1966, said Judith Persichilli, CEO of Catholic Health East, which runs 34 hospitals from its base in Newtown Square.

"People were convinced then that this meant the end of the health-care system," she said. "It didn't."

Doctors and hospitals should expect a stream of new patients, said Richard Baron of Greenhouse Internists, a former president of the American Board of Internal Medicine.

The law may mean more money for hospitals and physicians, which Baron called "a mixed blessing."

"We are already overwhelmed and struggling to meet the needs of those patients we already have," he said at the conference, sponsored by the Earle Mack School of Law and the School of Public Health at Drexel. "Now, we have to take on three times the number of patients we already have, and the workforce is limited."