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After court ruling, local leaders discuss future of WNY health care

With the Supreme Court's decision to uphold President Obama's health care law on the front page of virtually every paper in the nation and dominating conversations on cable, radio and social media, local leaders in health care and the law gathered for a symposium Friday morning on what the ruling means for Western New Yorkers.

"I think what the bill represents and the recent Supreme Court decision ruling and the level of precess and discussion – it's made this dilemma of health care in the United States the kitchen-table discussion," said James R. Kaskie, president and CEO of Kaleida Health, one of seven panelists who participated in the forum organized by BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York.

In the Buffalo Niagara region, several aspects of the Affordable Care Act, which was enacted two years ago, have already been or are in the process of being implemented.

Federal money has been used to open a new and larger community health center on Benwood Avenue where health care workers are preparing for an influx of newly insured patients seeking comprehensive care.

Health officials are putting together an insurance "exchange" – an online marketplace where people seeking individual health care coverage can comparison-shop to find a policy.

The University at Buffalo's medical school is exploring ways to deal with the higher demand for primary care.

Dr. Tom Rosenthal, chairman of University at Buffalo Department of Family Medicine, said the health care act will prompt physicians to rethink the way they provide medicine.

"I think the challenge for the medical profession is that we have to change our strategy," he said. "We need to reorganize ourselves so that we're delivering health care that is centered on what the patient's needs are."?Doctors should work as part of a team, which could include health care workers such as a diabetic teaching nurse, and use electronic tools to keep track of each patient's care.

"The ACA (Affordable Care Act) has already started to reward those changes in our offices," Rosenthal said.

Panelists focused much of the discussion on the impact of what has been widely considered the most controversial part of the health care act: the mandate for all Americans to buy medical insurance.

While New York does not yet mandate its residents to have medical insurance, the state's insurers already must accept all applicants regardless of pre-existing conditions, noted Don Ingalls, vice president of state and federal relations for BlueCross BlueShield. About 15 percent of the population in the state has no insurance.

He said the cost of policies for individuals skyrocketed over the past two decades, which led to people dropping out of such plans. The federal mandate "could have a positive impact on our individual market," Ingalls said

He added that people who currently receive medical coverage through their employers won't notice any immediate changes, partly because the law won't go into effect until 2014.

But, he added, there are concerns about another provision in the health care law that puts a tax on the insurance, which could add between $350 to $400 annually to a typical family policy.?"We're very concerned about the impact on affordability," Ingalls said.