HAMMOND | With less than a week until open enrollment begins in health care exchanges across the country, local leaders admit they still have a lot of unanswered questions about the Affordable Care Act. But they know more about it than three years ago when it was signed into law.
A panel that included hospital executives, benefits specialists and state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, discussed points of the law, also known as Obamacare, during the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce ninth annual Business Expo on Thursday at Dynasty Banquet Center in Hammond.
Nearly 400 people packed the banquet room to hear the hourlong discussion, which was moderated by Jim Dedelow, radio show host and owner of the WJOB radio station.
Panelist Will Glaros, who owns Employer Benefit Systems in Dyer, said his business has grown 30 percent in the past few years as employers are looking for help deciphering the law.
"Don't panic," Glaros said in his closing statement to the crowd. "The panic has been caused by the lack of knowledge out there."
The law is so thick that many unknowns remain, said Tom Gryzbek, president of Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospitals in Dyer and Hammond.
"We're still trying to figure out what's in the legislation," he said.
The panel fielded inquiries about Medicaid expansion in Indiana, employer responsibility under Obamacare, projected cost changes and penalties for remaining uninsured, among other questions.
The individual mandate takes effect Jan. 1. People without insurance must obtain coverage. If not, they will face a $95 fine or 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater, the first year, said Beth Auterman, a CPA with CliftonLarsonAllen LLP.
Methodist Hospitals President and CEO Ian McFadden said it is important for employers to educate their people because the law is complicated.
"We still don't have all the answers," he said.
He said local hospitals will have navigators to help guide people through enrollment.
JoAnn Birdzell, administrator and CEO of St. Catherine Hospital, said navigators will be ready starting Tuesday to sit down with people for 30 minutes to an hour to help with the process.
She encouraged people to make an appointment with a navigator in the Community Healthcare System by calling (219) 934-8888.
After the health care discussion, the group moved to an adjacent room, where member businesses had tables set up with information and giveaways.