To implement Obamacare, start by explaining it

Just one month remains before Obamacare starts to take full effect. On October 1, insurance exchanges, the law’s centerpiece, are scheduled to open for business.

Many await with excitement the chance to gain coverage they have been denied up to now because of poor health. Others fear the launch of a new bureaucratic morass. But a large number of Americans just want to understand what is going on.

In a poll conducted last June by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of respondents reported knowing “nothing at all” about the exchanges, and only 22% said they had heard “a lot” or “some” information about them. (Click here to see the full poll results.)

And the situation has not improved since then. A poll released last week by the Commonwealth Fund found that 70% of young adults between the ages of 19 and 29 were unaware of the exchanges. (Click here to see the full report.)

Another recent poll, this one by Gallup, found that only 10% of young people feel they are “very familiar” with the law. While a majority of people in all age groups, 55%, said they were “somewhat familiar” with it, only 15% felt they were “very” familiar, and 30% felt they were “unfamiliar.” (Click here to see the full poll results.)

Another Kaiser poll conducted in mid-August found that 51% of Americans still don’t understand how the law will affect them and their family. More significantly, 62% of the uninsured, the group that the law was primarily designed to help, said they don’t have enough information on it. (Click here to see the full poll results.)

Most astonishing of all, 44% in the August Kaiser poll still were not sure whether Obamacare is the law of the land, or whether it had been repealed or overturned in the courts.

How is health reform going to work if so many people don’t understand it?

Overall, the public’s reaction to Obamacare remains divided but predominantly negative. In the Kaiser poll, 42% disapproved and 37% approved. But 57% also disapproved of cutting off funding for it.

With only a month to go, the Obama administration has its work cut out for it. Admittedly, the law is extremely complex, but its central elements are actually not that complicated. 

Starting in October, if you can’t get health coverage anywhere else, you will be able to buy it in an online marketplace - a Travelocity of sorts for health insurance – where you cannot be turned down regardless of your health status. Beginning next year, you will have to maintain coverage of some sort if you can afford it, but you are guaranteed that it will be available.

A simple message like this could go a long way toward reducing the confusion. It might lead many of those who disapprove of Obamacare to withhold some of their skepticism. And the task of implementing the law would become a whole lot easier.

Robert I. Field is the author of Mother of Invention: How the Government Created 'Free-Market' Health Care, just released by Oxford University Press.


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