Confusion reigns

Huffington Post’s Jason Cherkis reported in August: “A middle-aged man in a red golf shirt shuffles up to a small folding table with gold trim, in a booth adorned with a flotilla of helium balloons, where government workers at the Kentucky State Fair are hawking the virtues of Kynect, the state’s health benefit exchange established by Obamacare.
The man is impressed. “This beats Obamacare I hope,” he mutters to one of the workers.”

Kynect is, of course, the health insurance exchange set up in Kentucky as part of Obamacare.

Consumers in Georgia, and nationwide are generally uninformed on the features of the Affordable Care Act. Enrollment for both individual exchanges and small group exchanges begins October 1st, yet consumers have yet to be informed about the exchanges. Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in August found that most Americans remain ignorant of how the new law affects them, while 44% unsure as to whether it remains the law or not.

The reasons for this confusion are two fold. One is the amount of misinformation being generated by opponents of the law. It is difficult to characterize the statements of a variety of state officials around the nation any other way. For example, statements by a number of insurance commissioners that the premiums in the exchange represent massive increases over existing premiums can be directly refuted by simply looking at the actual premiums.

The other is the lack of information flowing from the state and Federal entities charged with implementing the law. In the Kaiser Family Foundation poll 67 percent of respondents had heard little or nothing about the new law.

The state of Georgia has been silent on the changes in the health insurance market for individuals and small groups. The insurance commissioner’s office directs inquiries about the market to Healthcare.gov: the website set up by the Federal Government to provide information on the health insurance market for consumers.

Healthcare.gov provides good information about the law, and its benefits to consumers, but has as of today (September, 18) no information on premiums or plans available. It does direct users to the Kaiser Family Foundation calculator that provides general information about the subsidy a family may be eligible for, but doesn’t include Georgia specific information. There are two organizations in my zip code that the site refers me to for assistance in applying for a subsidy, but neither organization’s website appears ready to direct inquiries.

The plans that are going to be offered in the health insurance exchanges have been identified and that information provided to the insurance commissioner and to HHS. The premiums of each plan have also been disclosed. It is possible right now for consumers to have information on the plans available in their area, the plan characteristics, the subsidy they would be eligible for if any, and the net costs of coverage they would face. None of that information is yet available from. either the Federal or the state., although Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has stated the information will be available soon.

Releasing that information can only be the first step in clearing away the confusion in the public’s mind over their opportunities and challenges presented by the new law. It will take a major information campaign to clear that confusion away so consumers understand their actual options for health insurance coverage.

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