Healthcare Exchanges Rollout, Consumer Education Crucial

The country is abuzz with news of the state-based exchanges opening today. For the millions of uninsured, it means they can finally obtain affordable coverage. Yet, a lack of outreach and education about what the exchanges entail has created a missing link between consumers and their ability to make effective decisions.

The country is abuzz with news of the state-based exchanges opening today. For the millions of uninsured, it means they can finally obtain affordable coverage. Yet, a lack of outreach and education about what the exchanges entail has created a missing link between consumers and their ability to make effective decisions.

The benefits are obvious: free preventive care, rescission of the pre-existing condition exclusion, coverage for children up to age 26 years, better drug plans for seniors, and a more competitive marketplace for insurance companies. Still the word “mandate” seems to be absent from almost every Affordable Care Act (ACA) discussion. A recent Investors article reported that the word mandate is not found in everything from a recent President Obama speech, to the “$700 million worth” of promotional campaigns being aired (including one from the While House). The word mandate also was not prominently found on the Health and Human Services website, nor the promotional sites and advertisements of companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The financial impact expected to befall young, healthy individuals is also seemingly missing from promotions proclaiming ACA’s advantages. According to a recent Pew Research Center survery, an estimated 40% of the uninsured do not know that the ACA requires them to buy insurance. Those least aware are young people.

Brian Beutler, political writer, says that the government is telling young people that reform will change the current system, and that opting out carries no risk. However, this is anything but valid. Mr Beutler explains:

For the first year, Obamacare will have an unusually long open-enrollment period. It starts on Oct. 1, but eligible individuals can sign up through March, even if stricken by accident or illness. After that, though, anyone who decides, or is persuaded, to "skip" Obamacare will be as vulnerable as I would've been if I'd never applied for insurance and dropped that check in the mail. They'll be locked out of the system until the next open enrollment period begins on Oct. 14, 2014. That open enrollment period will last just 53 days. Break a leg or develop a serious illness in the interim and you get to choose between paying tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket or suffering for months and rolling the dice with a delayed diagnosis.

Consumer education will be critical to amp up in the coming weeks as exchange enrollment continues through March of next year.

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