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Examiner Local Editorial: Region feeling first ill effects of Obamacare

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Opinion,Local Editorial

Two cover stories in The Washington Examiner last week illustrate the damage that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is already wreaking on the local regional economy a year before it's fully implemented.

Hospital officials are already warning about the effect that "pent up" demand by thousands of new Medicaid enrollees will have on institutions that have been diligently consolidating their facilities to trim costs and comply with existing government regulations. According to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Medicaid expenditures will be higher, not lower, in the District, Virginia and Maryland. But hospitals will be simultaneously forced to hit new federal benchmarks while also cutting costs. Experts predict some struggling area hospitals will have to lay off staff or even close their doors, which will just further increase the burden on those remaining.

Patients should expect much longer waits in the ER and for hospital beds. MedStar is scrambling to set up new urgent care sites to meet the increased demand, but a shortage of primary care physicians will make them difficult to staff. Younger, healthier professional adults -- who make up the bulk of the District's latest population boom -- will wind up paying much higher premiums to subsidize a flood of new Medicaid recipients into the regional health care system.

When demand surges but supply remains the same or even declines, something will have to give. The end result is likely to be a one-size-fits-all approach that will come as an unwelcome shock for local residents accustomed to the individualized treatment that's long been a hallmark of the U.S. health care system.

A provision in Obamacare that requires employers to offer health insurance to part-time employees who work 30 hours per week or pay a massive fine is also having an adverse impact locally. Some 10,000 part-time state employees in Virginia will see their weekly hours reduced to 29 or less to get around this onerous section of the law. Many local residents, including community college employees and seasonal workers hired to staff the region's many parks and recreational facilities, will be affected.

And this is only the beginning.

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