The Washington Post by Sarah Kliff –
August 5, 2013:
The health insurance marketplaces launch eight weeks from Tuesday, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would like you to know that her agency is “on target and ready to flip the switch on October 1.”
“We know there’s still work to do,” Sebelius told reporters Monday afternoon. “We knew all along that Washington couldn’t do this alone. That was never the plan. The plan was to build a network in every state to help spread the word and make sure their communities are enrolled.”
Sebelius spent about a half-hour earlier Monday answering a wide range of questions from reporters, mostly on the launch of the marketplaces, whether her department would be ready and what to expect in coming weeks. These are the points that stood out to me as the most interesting.
1. Health and Human Services is trying to protect Obamacare outreach from sequester cuts.
The agency lost $15.5 billion due to the automatic budget cuts, but has tried to shield efforts to promote enrollment from those reductions. While the sequester has made travel “more complicated,” Sebelius did not say that it has limited efforts.
“This has been a significant priority area so we’re finding ways to limit other kinds of administrative costs [like] fewer conferences, looking at printing costs and other areas,” she said. The agency is “making sure I can travel and that people who need to do outreach can travel is a critical part of bringing attention and particularly the states where we’ll be running the federally-facilitated marketplaces.”
2. Wanted: A blockbuster movie budget.
The White House has long expressed frustration with Congress’ decision not to provide funding for Obamacare outreach. That means that, right now, the administration is working with a budget it wished would be larger, as it tries to sign seven million people up for health insurance coverage.
“We won’t have the kind of resources that Apple had when it rolled out the iPhone and iPad,” Sebelius said. “We’d love to have the money a movie studio has when its about to launch a new hit.”
In lieu of that, Sebelius said her agency is “going to be using all the resources we have and identifying all the partners eager for this to happen.”
3. Lots of people can actually start their Obamacare application right now.
Americans cannot enroll in new health insurance options until Oct.1. What they can do, starting today, is create an account with the federally-run marketplaces. “What we’re trying to do is ramp up the outreach and action items so we don’t peak too soon,” Sebelius said. “The goal, frankly, of having My Account launch in August is eight weeks from tomorrow is October 1. We want to put this in focus.”
Keep in mind, this is a feature only available in states that opted not to run their own marketplaces. When I try and create an account for the District of Columbia, where I live, I get a note telling me to head over to the DC Health Benefit Exchange.
If I lived in neighboring Virginia, however, I could have moved forward with creating an account.
Beyond creating an account, there’s not much to be done at this point. Users won’t be able to access sample insurance costs, for example, because of many of the rates haven’t been finalized (federal officials say that data will come out in September).
4. Out: Exchanges. In: Obamacare.
Sebelius confirmed that the agency has indeed pivoted away from using the word “exchange” to describe the new Web sites that will launch Oct. 1. “What we found as we got closer to developing outreach and marketing materials was it meant very little in English and less in Spanish,” she said. “No one knew what we were talking about.” So, now the Web sites are marketplaces.
Pressed on whether she likes the term Obamacare, Sebelius said: “I think I’m happy to talk about whatever terminology people understand to mean getting millions of Americans affordable coverage. If that what Obamacare means to people, I’m all for it.”
5. Sebelius will, unsurprisingly, not be burning her Obamacare draft card.
Asked about efforts to dissuade young adults from enrolling in Obamacare, Sebelius described such work as “dismal.”
“I think its a pretty dismal effort underway,” she says. Moreover, Sebelius expects these counter-enrollment efforts to be overwhelmed by all the insurance companies, hospitals and non-profits encouraging young adults to sign up.
“We’re going to do our best outreach to this group,” she says. “We know a lot of young adults don’t have health insurance as their top priority and reaching that group is a challenge. I do know that the target population is front and center on insurance companies’ target lists.” Insurance plans want to sign up young adults for the same reason that the White House wants them to enroll: Their lower health care costs would likely lower the cost of premiums. Lower premiums, from an insurers’ perspective, means an easier sell.