With President Obama returning for a second term, the debate in Washington over the merits (or demerits) of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is finished. Now, physicians, hospitals, payers and other healthcare organizations can focus on how the ACA will be changing the landscape over the next few years.
First, the Obama administration will soon start releasing the regulations needed to implement the ACA, whose major provisions are scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2014. That will give healthcare organizations about a year prepare for the new rule, although it’s possible that the implementation of some ACA provisions will be delayed until later in 2014.
In the past few months, much of the public debate over the ACA has been centered on employer-related issues, such as who should be covered, what coverage is needed and what penalties apply for failing to provide that coverage. Those employer-employee provisions will also affect U.S. hospitals, health systems and major physician groups.
For most providers, an even more important issues is how the ACA will increase demand for care. The impact will vary across the country, since each state will decide whether to expand Medicaid and set up a subsidized health insurance exchange for individuals to obtain coverage. However, the ACA is already increasing coverage, as a recent U.S. Census Bureau report found that the number of uninsured Americans decreased in 2011 for the first time in four years.
Therefore, physicians, hospitals and other providers should try to estimate the number of uninsured residents in their markets to estimate the potential growth in demand in 2013 and beyond.
Initially, the growth in coverage is likely to spur demand for primary care services, with a “trickle up” impact on specialty care through referrals. However, providers of all sizes and types should begin making plans for their staffing patterns in the coming year to ensure that they can continue to deliver quality patient care. In many cases, temporary staffing can provide a flexible solution to finding the right professionals needed to meet the increased demand for services.