Just about four in ten Americans — or 42 percent — are unsure whether the Affordable Care Act is still on the books, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey. With only 100 days before the superstore-like health insurance exchanges are scheduled to open for enrollment, the Obama Administration has redoubled its efforts to inform the public about how to sign up for insurance.
A 24-hour U.S. hotline at 1-800-318-2596 has been activated, and a redesigned government website has been launched as part of a push to better educate Americans about the law, which continues to mystify consumers. Together, the phone line and the website create the public face of the new Internet marketplaces that will begin selling insurance coverage on October 1 for Americans not eligible for employer-sponsored healthcare.
These services “will help consumers prepare for the new coverage opportunities coming later this year,” Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in a statement. CMS is the agency responsible for supervising the website and the hotline.
“The new website and toll-free number have a simple mission: to make sure every American who needs health coverage has the information they need to make choices that are right for themselves and their families — or their businesses,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.
Spreading the word about marketplaces, which the website says will give Americans “more choice and control” over health coverage, is essential for the success of these instruments. The administration has estimated that between 2.6 million and 2.7 million young, cheap-to-insure people need to purchase coverage via the exchanges to balance the risk presented by the millions of older or sicker people who will likely flock to the marketplaces when they open.
“Health insurance needs lots of healthy people to sign up for coverage,” wrote the New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn. “Their premiums cover the big bills for the relatively small number of sick people. So if the exchanges don’t enroll enough young, healthy people, insurers will have to raise everyone’s premiums.”
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that approximately 7 million people will obtain insurance through the services next year, a number that is expected to increase to 24 million by 2023.
On the website, answering a few simple questions regarding age, family size, and income will enable consumers to get a very general picture of what options will be available to them. The website, HealthCare.gov, also answers questions on topics ranging from the health insurance marketplaces to job-based insurance and small business insurance.
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