Like millions of people around the country, local residents and business owners are worried, concerned and perplexed by what happens next following the Supreme Court's decision to uphold President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
The ruling has left several local business owners wondering what the future holds for their operations. It also has put pressure on the state to begin setting up a health exchange for business owners to offer employees.
Stan Pilarski, owner of Stanson's Floor Covering and Furniture, said the news is not good, and like most people, he is unsure of what it means for store owners and their employees.
News Photo by Andrew Westrope
Pharmacist technician Marie Deitz takes a subscription order at LeFave Pharmacy in Alpena on Thursday. Local pharmacists are unsure about how the Affordable Care Act will impact their business, and some are waiting for more information before making up their minds about the legislation.
"This is horrible and unbelievable," Pilarski said. "I'm just like the rest of the general public in the fact that nobody knows what it means. We have never gotten anything in black and white telling us we need to do this, this and this. I don't think the people in Washington know what it will do or cost. I think if the plan is as good as the president says, everyone involved in government in Washington should be made to use it."
Wayne Kowalski owns State Street and Ripley car washes as well as several Penzoil Oil 10 Minute oil changes in Alpena. He said he's not sure what the ins and outs of the law are or what impact they will have on his bottom line. He said he believes the questions surrounding the controversial mandate have hindered the country's recovery.
"I would think there would be more expenses attached to it that would cause some heartache, but right now I don't really know much about it," Kowalski said. "I think the unknown from this has held the economy back and prevented hiring."
Doug DeYoung, vice president of government relations and business advocacy at Northern Michigan Regional Chamber Alliance, said it will be difficult to know the financial impacts of the law until the state of Michigan puts a health exchange in place. DeYoung said the program would operate much like a travel site such as Travelocity where a customer can choose from available offerings and create a package to fit a particular need. He said the state has been waiting for the Supreme Court's decision before moving forward with creating one.
"We don't know what the full effect will be until the state creates a health exchange or joins a multi-state exchange," DeYoung said. "Until that is done and people know what the options and cost are, the uncertainty will remain high for this issue."
Residents were just as split as business owners.
Laurie and Garry Griggs of Alpena said they were both upset with the court's decision.
"It's very disappointing that in this country, the government can take such control of our personal lives," Laurie said.
Garry agreed, adding he still doesn't believe the law is constitutional, despite the high court's ruling stating otherwise.
"I'm a veteran, and you think about right and wrong, and freedom, and I just don't see how they can make people buy something they don't want."
Garry and Laurie's opinion on the mandate was echoed by other area residents.
Job Kakish of Alpena said he agreed with the mandate, adding he's racked up thousands of dollars in medical expenses battling Crohn's disease and tending to various injuries. The hospital bills have driven him to the point of bankruptcy.
"Everybody needs insurance, just like car insurance, period," he said.
Kakish was visiting a resale shop in downtown Alpena looking to sell some of his possessions, he said. He gestured to a glass case filled with items for sale.
"See this? This is the result of no health insurance," he said. "We have to sell everything we have to survive."
Jack Guy of Harrisville said he was surprised by the court's ruling, and he'd like to see what the health care law can do before striking it down or changing it.
"It's like a science experiment," he said. "You've got to see where you are with it, collect your data, and let it ride for a few years. If it needs to be tweaked, then tweak it.
"But don't be partisan about it. I don't like partisan politics just for the sake of party."
Guy wasn't sure about the particulars of the law, but he's in favor of it if it helps people get more health care, he said.
Still in the process of digesting the 2,700-page law, local insurers are not yet sure how it will affect their business or their customers. Lappan Agency, Inc. President Tom Lappan said two of his company's providers will host internal webinars today to answer questions about the law.
"We really haven't had an opportunity to get into the bowels of it," he said. "We've been trying for the last year or so to get our companies to tell us what's happening, because we represent Blue Cross and Priority Health and places like that, and they really didn't know how that's going to impact us. Obviously we generate revenues from group life and health insurance and individual insurance, and we simply don't know where that puts us as an industry in this point and time as a provider. But we will be finding out shortly. I think everything has been up in the air."
Lappan said his company has a separate division that studies the issue, and while he believes some parts of the law are appropriate, his feelings on the law and the Supreme Court's ruling are divided.
"I personally think that health care will become more costly," he said. "There are some parts of the Affordable Care Act that I support. There are some parts of it that I do not support. I do not necessarily support that it's mandatory. To me, it was a controversial decision."
Alpena Agency, Inc. Vice President Pete Wilson was non-committal about whether or not the law will be a step in the right direction for the health care industry, but he was confident his company will still have work to do.
"It's very difficult to wade through what is speculation and what is really going to happen. You can spend a lot of time analyzing something that never even happens, and this health care law is quite a comprehensive and complicated proposal of which the final implementation may not be exactly as it's currently sitting," he said. "Our role right now is, we are the go-between insurance company and the customer, and our job is to explain the coverages, explain their options, and assist them with claims if necessary, so if the proposed changes continue, that role is still going to need to be filled by somebody, so we feel that, in the end, agents are still going to have a role in helping customers choose and wade through their health care options."
Pharmacists also are waiting on more information, and many of them have yet to hold internal discussions about what universal health care means for their work. LeFave Pharmacist Jesse Spicer said it could impact reimbursement for insurance companies, and changing care costs, rising or falling, could change the industry.
"As health care costs are being cut or are going high, there's always concern that we're going to lose patients to mail order facilities and things like that where they're trying to keep health care costs at a bare minimum," he said. "That's always a concern, though. That's been a concern for a decade or more of losing business to mail order facilities ... regardless of health care reform."
Walmart Supercenter pharmacist Chris Kowalski agreed with others that biased reports from both sides of the political aisle make it difficult to know what the law actually entails. He expects his own role as a pharmacist will become more involved, and while he couldn't say whether this was the change the system needed, he was adamant that it needed one.
"It's definitely a system that needs to be fixed, it's just how we fix it and go about it can't be something we fail upon in the United States, because if we do, it's going to be quite tragic," he said.