The Obama administration may have delayed a key provision of the Affordable Care Act concerning businesses last week, but another provision that would affect those businesses' employees — the mandate that they must have health insurance next year — is still in place.
The trouble is, the majority of those people are unaware of that mandate.
To turn that disadvantage around, businesses, nonprofits and government officials are undertaking a massive outreach effort this summer, one that will accelerate as Oct. 1 — the beginning of the open enrollment period — approaches.
It's a big job. A national poll of the people who could most benefit by the act, also called Obamacare, shows that nearly three out of four respondents were not aware that they'll have options to buy health coverage, or even that they have to buy it.
The poll, conducted by a pro-Obamacare coalition of businesses and agencies called Enroll America, found that 72 percent of the 1,814 adults under age 65 who didn't have insurance or lost coverage were unaware of the coming changes.
"I don't think that the news is getting out too clearly and this is a grave concern for many people," said Marc I. Basist, an employee benefits consultant for Kistler Tiffany Benefits in South Whitehall Township.
The essential news is that most people who don't qualify for government-sponsored insurance such as Medicare and Medicaid or have coverage through their employer will be required to purchase health coverage in 2014. These are the people — low- and medium-wage working individuals and families — most affected by the Obama administration's announcement last week that it will delay to 2015 imposing penalties on medium and large businesses that don't provide insurance for their employees.
Beginning in October, those individuals and families will be able to shop for plans through an insurance exchange and, depending on their income, will have access to subsidies to defray some or all of the cost.
Prices for shoppers on Pennsylvania's exchange won't be known until September, federal officials say. In states where rates have been released, Avalere Health, a Washington-based health care consulting firm, found mixed news. Rates for a "silver" level plan for a 40-year-old nonsmoker were $205 a month in a region of Oregon, and $413 in part of Vermont. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that the national average would be $433 per month, Avalere said.
However, rates for young, healthy people buying individual policies will still be higher than what is currently available, Avalere said. It did not publish rates for that population. The analysis also did not take into account the subsidies for which many exchange shoppers will qualify.
Many of the educational campaigns about the exchanges are already underway, and Obamacare supporters say awareness of the law will improve.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the lead agency regulating Obamacare, recently relaunched its website for educating and enlisting insurance buyers, http://www.healthcare.gov. The law also includes funding for "navigators," people who will provide personal assistance to insurance shoppers.
HHS also is trying to educate the public using "lessons learned" from its campaigns rolling out Medicare Part D and the children's health insurance program, said regional Public Affairs Officer Lorraine A. Ryan. The department will focus on getting supporters in business, faith-based groups and advocacy organizations to use their networks to inform potential insurance buyers.
"It's going to be very boots-on-the-ground," she said, saying the programs were successful in enrolling beneficiaries.
But particularly in the case of Medicare Part D, that was not the case at the start. The program, which provides funding for drug coverage for seniors, initially was marked by chaos and confusion. A National Institutes of Health review of 30 papers examining seniors' understanding of Part D showed "significant gaps in knowledge" and that most seniors initially chose plans "that did not best meet their needs" — problems that were most pronounced when the program began in early 2006.
Federal officials are trying to follow Massachusetts' success in promoting its health insurance program a year later. There, the state brought in members of the New England Patriots to promote the program, so HHS officials proposed doing the same for Obamacare.
But Obamacare's political opponents moved to squash the proposal. NFL officials said they had no plans to get involved in a campaign after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and others last week warned them about getting involved in a program supporting a law that sparked "divisiveness" and was "persistently unpopular."
They're correct about its unpopularity. The latest Gallup poll on Obamacare shows that 52 percent of respondents disapprove of the law and 44 percent support it.
Opponents have been hammering at Obamacare since the president signed it into law in 2010. Republicans seized on the administration's decision to delay the business penalty as signs of government ineptitude and the flaws of the law.
"The president's health care law is already raising costs and costing jobs," said House Speaker John Boehner after the news broke Tuesday. "This announcement means even the Obama administration knows the 'train wreck' will only get worse. I hope the administration recognizes the need to release American families from the mandates of this law as well."