The Dangerous Cycle Of Ignorance About Obamacare

Sarah Kliff has an important article in today’s WaPo about the extraordinarily low levels of information about the Affordable Care Act among the people most affected: the uninsured. And it’s a problem for everybody:

States are rushing to decide whether to build their own health exchanges and the administration is readying final regulations, but a growing body of research suggests that most low-income Americans who will become eligible for subsidized insurance have no idea what’s coming.

Part of the problem, experts say, is that people who will be affected don’t realize the urgency because the subsidies won’t begin for another year. But policy decisions are being made now that will affect tens of millions of Americans, and the lack of public awareness could jeopardize a system that depends on having many people involved. Low enrollment could lead to higher premiums, health policy experts say. Hospitals worry that, without widespread participation, they will continue getting stuck with patients’ unpaid medical bills. And advocates say the major purpose of the Affordable Care Act – extending health insurance to more Americans – will go unmet if large numbers of vulnerable people don’t take advantage of it.

We can thank our Republican friends for some of this problem, given the extraordinary amount of misinformation they’ve made available on Obamacare. It also doesn’t help that many states are led by GOP governors and legislators who instead of trying to educate citizens on the new law are cheerleading for its failure. And on top of everything else, Republican members of Congress, under the guise of oversight, are fighting administration outreach and public education efforts.

So much of the educational effort will be borne by a new group called Enroll America, backed by the health care industry and philanthropic organizations:

In the coming months, the group will begin an advertising campaign meant to encourage Americans to sign up for the health-care law’s subsidized insurance coverage. Still in its planning stages, it is likely to start in the summer or fall of 2013, just before the state-based insurance marketplaces open for enrollment.

The still-unnamed campaign is likely to put more intensive resources toward a handful of key states. Those could include Florida and Texas, which have a combined 10 million uninsured residents, and have made little effort to do such outreach.

And that’s the most annoying part of the whole anti-Obamacare campaign: it’s the public officials in the states most in need who have so deliberately and egregiously failed to perform their responsibilities. Wherever possible, some payback in 2014 would be most appropriate.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.