Locust Walk Talk: DC and the Affordable Care Act

Author: Casey Ryan, C’95

“Health care exchanges are a pivotal part of the Affordable Health Care Act.” – Ezekiel Emanuel

Attendees gather for the discussion

I think that it’s timely, just days after the Health Insurance Exchanges were enacted through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, that I revisit a trip to Washington, DC for The Road Ahead for Health Care Reform. Sponsored by the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative (PPI) and Wharton Lifelong Learning, the event was held on September 9, 2013 at the W Hotel in Washington, D.C.

This evening featured a bipartisan conversation relying on the expertise of Daniel Polsky, Executive Director, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, and Robert D. Eilers Professor in Health Care Management and Economics and Ezekiel Emanuel, Vice Provost for Global Initiatives and Diane v.S. Levy and Robert M. Levy University Professor.  The engaging discussion was moderated by Mark Duggan, Rowan Family Foundation Professor and Faculty Director, Penn Wharton PPI.

Duggan, Polsky and Emanuel sit at the panel (photo credit Shira Yudkoff)

The topic of the panel discussion zeroed in on the implementation of the new health insurance exchanges which lead to a lively debate on other aspects of health care reform, including how the Affordable Care Act will affect the labor force, what health care will look like in the U.S. in the next decade and what still needs to be done.

Though out the debate, Professor Emanuel was very optimistic about the changes to the American health care system. He firmly believed that the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of 7 million Americans signing up for new health insurance through the exchanges will be exceeded when the initial open enrollment period ends. His only fear was that the exchanges would be so popular that the system wouldn’t be able to handle the demand.

Fleshing out the conversation, Professor Polsky addressed that greater access to health care will affect the labor force positively. He sees a workforce becoming more flexible, since this new access to health care will remove job lock, the inability to freely leave a job since doing so will result in the loss of health benefits. An additional insight that Professor Polsky shared was that future workers might realistically expect higher wages since the cost of health insurance will come down through competition and employers will want to maintain the current level of total compensation that they offer their more flexible employees.

The crowd listening in

The conversation assuaged the fears that employers will end their benefit plans and send their workers to the exchanges to find coverage or employ fewer workers altogether. Polsky rebutted this fear, cautioning that employers will still need to offer insurance as part of a compensation package to attract and retain talent.  This will eventually provide employees with more choice in their jobs and therefore more power.  Emanuel sites evidence in Massachusetts, which opened its health care reform to its citizens in 2008, that shows most employers did not send their workers into its exchange and they instead offered more insurance to employees.

The event was a great success, as the panel was followed by an engaging Question and Answer session. For more information, this panel was covered in Penn Wharton Public Policy Blog by Matt Stengel, W’10, in the Wharton Magazine Online by Matthew Brodsky, Editor, Wharton Magazine and with a video of the panel on Wharton’s Lifelong Learning Site.

Gathering afterward, discussing the evening’s talk

Are you interested in more health care topics presented by Penn this fall in DC?

Come join us for Healthy Cities: Healthy Women Washington, DC on October 30 at the JW Marriott Hotel at 8:30am featuring DC experts such as Susan J. Blumenthal, MD, MPA; First Deputy Assistant Secretary for Women’s Health; Former U.S. Assistant Surgeon General; Rear Admiral, USPHS (ret.); Clinical Professor, Tufts and Georgetown School of Medicine; Senior Fellow in Health Policy, New America Foundation, Harriet Tregoning, Director, DC Office of Planning, and Nancy Lee, MD, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health – Women’s Health, and Director, Office on Women’s Health, Office of the Secretary, US Department of Health and Human Services.


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