The New York Times By Sarah Wheaton –
April 17, 2013:
A routine Senate budget hearing turned into a public scolding as a prominent backer of the health care overhaul warned that a lack of public information could cause a “train wreck” as the law’s implementation moves forward.
Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, grilled the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, during a hearing on Wednesday about the administration’s plans to educate the public about benefits. With the enrollment period for insurance exchanges set to begin Oct. 1, Mr. Baucus said that citizens, especially small businesses, had “no idea what to do.”
He said he gave a “failing grade” to the administration’s public information efforts.
“I’m concerned that lack of clear information is leading to misconceptions and misinformation, and people generally dislike what they don’t understand,” Mr. Baucus said, citing a March poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that high proportions of Americans had misconceptions about the law’s provisions.
The Kaiser poll showed that 40 percent of respondents believe erroneously that the law creates a government panel to make end-of-life decisions for Medicare recipients, and that 57 percent think it includes a public insurance option.
The Health and Human Services Department has pledged a major outreach effort this fall around the exchanges.
A finding in the Kaiser poll that Mr. Baucus did not specifically mention was that 40 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of the law, compared with 37 percent favorable.
“I just see a huge train wreck coming down,” Mr. Baucus said. “You and I have discussed this many times, and I don’t see any results yet.”
Ms. Sebelius responded, “We certainly take outreach and education very, very seriously.” However, Mr. Baucus, who faces a potentially difficult re-election battle in 2014, appeared exasperated when she was unable to provide specific benchmarks or details on planned efforts.
As chairman of the finance committee, Mr. Baucus was instrumental in securing the law’s passage in 2010. He remains a strong proponent, a spokeswoman said.
“He still thinks it’s a great law, and he just is very intent on seeing it implemented correctly and making sure that all the benefits are communicated to people thoroughly,” said Meaghan Smith, a committee aide.
“We are implementing the health care law on schedule and have an outreach and enrollment campaign that will continue to expand,” said Erin Shields Britt, a spokeswoman for the Health Department. “On October 1, small businesses and individuals in every state will be able to shop for quality affordable coverage.”