On April 25, Politico reported: “Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.”
An exemption request like this is totally expected from Republicans who are determined to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but from Democrats it is absolutely appalling because they are supposed to be proponents of the ACA. They worked diligently to pass it, though sadly and to the law’s detriment, many distanced themselves from it once implementation commenced.
After some commiserating with like-minded people and searching for further information, I stumbled upon Ezra Klein’s piece in the Washington Post, basically stating that this is much ado about nothing. Then later in the day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office made the following statement:
“Senator Reid is committed to ensuring that all members of Congress and Congressional staff experience the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in exactly the same way as every other American. He believes that this is the effect of the legislation as written, and that therefore no legislative fix is necessary. There are not now, have never been, nor will there ever be any discussions about exempting members of Congress or Congressional staff from Affordable Care Act provisions that apply to any employees of any other public or private employer offering health care.”
Much of the initial political firestorm has been extinguished. However, this is a perfect example of the outrage people feel when those in power exempt themselves from programs in which the rest of us are required to participate. It sends the wrong message: They are above adhering to the same standards as their constituents. It not only looks bad but also further erodes the public’s faith in government and democracy.
Furthermore, it is always the negative side of this legislation that makes headlines. Where is the campaign to promote the ACA’s benefits as well as provide information about the upcoming enrollment period, starting October 1? If someone like me, who pays close attention to happenings in the political world, doesn’t possess a good understanding of how the ACA will be rolled out, how is someone less informed expected to know about it?
The Obama administration, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelious, and democratic legislators have been dismal communicators of the ACA’s benefits and enrollment procedures. The high-risk health insurance plan, PCIP (Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan), is a perfect example of why it is so important to employ a nationwide educational campaign about health care reform. Enrollment peaked at 110,088 people, far below the 375,000 expected participation number. This is mainly due to a general lack of knowledge of PCIP’s existence, as of July 1, 2010.
In February PCIP enrollment halted because of a funding shortage. These insureds will be rolled into the state health exchanges open to all citizens starting January 1, 2014, when there will no longer be pre-existing exclusion clauses in medical insurance plans.
There is growing concern that the state exchanges won’t be ready in time. Many states, mostly GOP-led, have refused to establish insurance exchanges, leaving implementation up to the federal government. If exchanges are not established and systems are not in place by October, confusion and chaos will reign, as enrollees try to figure out how to maneuver through the application process.
New Jersey, where I reside, has approximately 1.3 million uninsured residents and is a state where the federal government will operate the exchanges. In addition to refusing to establish a health care exchange, Governor Chris Christie originally turned down funds for Medicaid expansion; he eventually had a change of heart on that matter. Only 20 states and DC have agreed to Medicaid expansion, which covers everyone below 133% of the federal poverty line.
There is much contention surrounding the ACA and it is not without its flaws. It is, more accurately, health insurance reform as opposed to health care reform. Despite its limitations, it is a much-needed first step in the right direction toward achieving affordable, quality health care for all Americans. However, to benefit from the ACA, Americans must know what provisions are included, how and where to sign up, what it will cost, and have their concerns addressed and questions answered quickly.
If the exchanges are rolled out amidst confusion and disorganization, its success will be jeopardized and every “Obamacare” hater will pounce with “I told you so.” Health and Human Services and the Obama administration better have a plan—and if they currently have one, it’s not apparent—to educate the public in order to attain the participation rates necessary for the ACA to succeed. Where is the high-profile campaign to inform Americans about the upcoming changes?
If these actions aren’t taken soon, they better have a strategy in place to stanch the political bleeding that will no doubt result from an angry, confused, and frustrated American public. They must get it right.
To learn more about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, visit Healthcare.gov
Cross-posted at The Feisty Liberal