Panel focuses on Affordable Care Act

WEIRTON – With only a few weeks before open enrollment in health care exchange programs begins under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Weirton Woman’s Club hosted a panel Wednesday in the hopes of clarifying some of the issues surrounding the national health care law.

Dozens of area residents gathered at the Serbian-American Cultural Center to hear information from and ask questions of a panel of health care and insurance officials, government representatives and others. The panel was moderated by Kelli McCoy, director of communications for Weirton Medical Center and owner of LEX Multimedia.

Among those on hand Wednesday was West Virginia Attorney General Matrick Morrisey, who noted open enrollment in the health care exchange programs begins Oct. 1 and there is still a lot of information which has not been provided by the federal government.

“I think it’s important people learn as much as they can,” Morrisey said. “It’s too important that we get this right.”

Morrisey also noted West Virginia currently has only one insurance provider signed up to participate in the exchange and discussed some of his concerns over the system of insurance navigators and the potential for scams.

Other members of the panel also discussed their concerns with the implementation of the law.

J.J. Bernabei, pharmacist and owner of Tri-State Pharmacy, approached the issue as both a medical professional and business owner, saying while the law will ensure prescription coverage for everyone enrolled in the exchange programs, there is still little known on what that will do for the costs of prescription drugs.

“We really don’t know what it’s going to cost us,” Bernabei said.

Sara Hawthorne-Bohn, an attorney with Rokisky and Associates, explained the firm, which specializes in elder care planning, is still waiting to see what long-term effects the law will have on Medicaid.

Dr. Rachel Gilman, who recently sold her practice to Weirton Medical Center, explained the rising costs of health care was part of the reason she made the decision to go with the hospital.

She said while there is still a great deal of uncertainty, she feels the ACA is a good starting point and can be adjusted if needed.

“Mostly, I feel positive,” she said. “We have to start somewhere.”

Dr. Atul Shetty, on the other hand, expressed concerns over the possibility of more individuals trying to obtain medical care once the law is implemented, but not having access to enough doctors to handle the increased work load.

“There are not enough primary care physicians around,” Shetty said, noting a decrease in the number of students going into medical school.

Shetty said he will most likely end up hiring a nurse practitioner to assist him.

Colleen Rackley-Cuda, senior program director for Aetna’s care reform project management office, explained much of the law already has gone into effect, but said implementation of the full law will be bumpy for a while.

She noted her company also handles programs for Coventry, which recently had pulled out of participating in West Virginia’s health care exchange because of concerns it could affordably provide coverage.

Bringing up several concerns about the law was certified public accountant Albert Macre.

“Obamacare is probably the single worst thing to happen to America,” Macre said.

Macre said he feels more employers will stop offering insurance, which will drive more people to the exchange programs.

C.H.A.N.G.E., Inc. representative Barbara Urbowicz spoke briefly about the organization’s position, saying the law would benefit small businesses and potentially assist the local non-profit’s abilities to provide medical service to low-income residents.

The panel also took questions from the audience focused on efforts in Congress to reform, or even defund, the program; the level of funding for each state; the costs of prescriptions; and the quality of medical care.

Also participating in the panel was Mary Jo Guidi, regional coordinator for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D.-W.Va., Pam Krushansky, field representative for U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling, and Dave Sloan, health law fellow for McKinley.

(Howell can be contacted at, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)