More than three years after President Barack Obama signed his health care reform law and just months before people can start signing up for benefits, his administration will roll out a massive consumer outreach campaign.
The Obama administration has a four-pronged plan to improve woeful public awareness of how the health care law is supposed to work, building up to Oct. 1, when people will actually begin seeking health coverage through the law's health insurance exchanges, according to a memo to the Senate Finance Committee from Marilyn Tavenner, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (h/t The Hill)
Obama and his lieutenants have their work cut out for them as they try to connect millions of uninsured people to subsidized private health insurance or Medicaid -- and to transition people and small businesses who already buy their own health insurance into the new system.
Public polling continues to show a plurality of Americans oppose the law, which is bad enough for Obama.
Worse is how poorly the public actually understands what Obamacare is and what it does. A recent poll by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation shows a majority doesn't believe they know enough about the law to determine whether it's good for them. People know even less about health care reform than they did in 2010, the survey revealed. And the poor and the uninsured -- the very people for whom Congress wrote this law -- are the least informed about it.
Meanwhile, Republicans and the health insurance industry continue to offer dark warnings of huge premium increases. Even Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who effectively is the chief author of the health care reform law, seems panicked. Baucus railed at Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a hearing Wednesday, saying the implementation of Obamacare will be a "train wreck" if she doesn't get the public properly educated in time.
After the hearing, Baucus laid out his concerns in a written statement:
"This is a good law but it can't work if people don't understand it," Senator Baucus said. "I hear from people on the ground in Montana that they are confused about the health care law. For the insurance marketplaces to work, people need to know their options and how to enroll. I want families' lives to be easier, and I want small businesses to focus on job creation, not confusion. The administration must use every day between now and October 1 to have insurance marketplaces up and running."
Tavenner's memo lays out the four phases of the administration's campaign to do just that: "Preparation," "Education," "Get Ready" and -- finally -- "Enrollment."
The "Education" part of this plan started at the beginning of the year and runs through June. The Kaiser Family Foundation survey took place in March, suggesting the administration hadn't made much headway halfway through.
But starting this summer, Obamacare begins to transition from a political abstraction into a fact of life for millions of Americans. That's when the administration will start promoting the call centers and websites designed to assist people and training so-called navigators to provide additional assistance.
After that is when the big sales pitch happens. "The Enrollment phase will run from October 2013 to March 2014. It includes a major launch effort that will engage all media channels, as well as provide new customer service channels and in-person assistance," Tavenner wrote.
The administration will have some help in its efforts. Supporters of the health care reform law will tout its benefits, including a coalition of liberal groups and health care industry organizations known as Enroll America.
And the health insurance industry will start advertising and marketing their products, in spite of their bitterness over the law. Obama exhorted them to work with him during a meeting with executives at the White House last Friday.
Follow Jeffrey Young on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JeffYoung