New York City now has one patient — Dr. Craig Spencer — with confirmed Ebola, and three patients who are in quarantine as a result of their association with Spencer.
What do those cases mean for the agents and brokers already wrestling with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) provisions and programs that affect the commercial health insurance market?
The Spencer case already has disrupted the operations of a bowling alley Spencer visited and pushed a local public hospital, Bellevue Hospital, to care for Spencer in high-tech isolation, using the kinds of safeguards they might use if he were made out of cyanide gas.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had to take the time to do a press conference in which they struggled to assure reporters, and the public, that the risk anyone would catch Ebola from Spencer was low.
Spencer reportedly became infected while volunteering for Doctors without Borders in Guinea, in West Africa. He was at unusually high risk for contracting the disease, due to his close work with patients in Guinea, and he kept careful track of his health once he returned to New York. Public health officials were quick to emphasize that they believe people Ebola can pass on the disease only after they begin experiencing obvious symptoms of the illness.
But news of the Spencer case surfaced just half a day before the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee was about to hold a hearing on the Ebola crisis.
Meanwhile, within Africa, the public health officials in Mali reported that a woman had rescued a 2-year-old niece whose parents had died of Ebola in Guinea and brought her deep into Mali. Mali had not previously had a confirmed case of Ebola during the recent outbreak. The news of Ebola spreading to Mali has sparked fears that the outbreak might worsen and expand in West Africa, devastating the people in that region and increasing the chances that the outbreak could spread to other regions of the world.
A few hours earlier, many were mocking the alarm over the reports of three Ebola cases occurring in Dallas, including two cases of a patient infecting U.S. people in the United States. Alarm flared back up once national reporters realized that someone with confirmed Ebola was in a hospital a few blocks away.
The Spencer case may have sharply increased the odds that Ebola will have significant effects on PPACA program implementation, even if no one else in the United States gets Ebola. Because, even if Ebola flops, the flu is still out there.
Here’s a look at three ways Ebola could collide with PPACA.
1. Money will be tighter.
Republicans in Congress have tried to tighten the flow of money to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in part to block or slow the implementation of PPACA programs.
HHS has responded by shifting much of the operating funding it believes it can control to PPACA implementation. Some states may have taken similar steps, to use public health funding and other health agency money for PPACA programs.
Governmental PPACA programs may now face new competition from public health programs.