Sebelius: Misinformation is Obamacare Enemy No. 1


Ever since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in March 2010, the complexities of the health care reform have drawn criticism; even supporters wince at the length of the document because the complexities have caused extreme implementation difficulties and eased the dissemination of misinformation.

A speech given by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius before the National Conference of State Legislatures Health Summit in Atlanta, Georgia on Monday was meant to highlight the efforts the Obama administration was making to help states “meet the challenges” of implementing the Affordable Care Act. But the comments Sebelius made in an interview after the speech carried a much stronger indictment of the what she believes to be the main problem facing implementation: misinformation.

As Bloomberg reported Tuesday, the Health and Human Services Secretary believes that the Obama administration must combat the “misinformation” that Republican governors are spreading in their states. In fact, Sebelius claimed that the lack of “correct facts” is such a problem that the Affordable Care Act will only succeed in states run by Democrats who support the health care reform, meaning states like Georgia, where a Republican governor leads a Republican-dominated legislature, “the job is made doubly difficult.” Because the state chose not to set up its own exchange, the federal government has taken over the task. Georgia has also decided not to expand Medicaid, a problem the federal government cannot rectify so easily.

Republican leaders in Indiana, Ohio, Georgia and Florida have all said that rather than make health care more affordable — the expressed intent of the law — it will make coverage more expensive for individuals who buy their insurance. On July 30, Georgia’s state insurance commissioner, Ralph Hudgens, said that insurance premiums could triple. That claim is exactly the type of misinformation to which Sebelius was referring. Comparatively, a commercial titled “Hands Off Obamacare,” which was created by liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change to support the legislation, led with this statement: “the new is in…health care premiums are tumbling.”

“We know that there will be states where things will go very well because the states are all in,” Sebelius said, according to Bloomberg. But for residents in other states, “getting correct facts to them, drilling down through the misinformation, is going to be more complicated. That’s where a lot of my time and effort is going to be spent, on the markets that are really federal markets.” The secretary’s trip to Georgia is just one of a series of appearances she is making before the Obamacare-mandated exchanges open on October 1 with the purpose of educating Americans and encouraging the uninsured to sign up for coverage via the online marketplaces.

Education of some form is needed; a Kaiser Family Foundation showed in April that more than 40 percent of Americans are confused as to the legal standing of the Affordable Care Act, and the administration is hoping as many as 7 million Americans who are not covered by employer-sponsored insurance plans sign up by early next year.

Yet, the Obama administration is facing more than a little confusion. In Congress, Senator Mike Lee of Utah and a small group of other Republicans have threatened to force a federal government shutdown unless President Barack Obama agrees to cut Obamacare funding from the fiscal 2014 budget. Sebelius has said that the effort is a folly.

“There still is a dialogue being perpetuated by some opponents that this is gonna go away, and that this is not the law,” she said in the interview. “The Affordable Care Act was signed in March of 2010, it was upheld by the Supreme Court a year ago, the president was re-elected and we will implement the law. This is the law; it’s not a debate any longer, it’s not a discussion.”

While in Atlanta, Sebelius met with the chairman of the Fulton County Commissioners, John Eaves, and other advocates for the law. As Bloomberg reported, that county spends between $50 million to $100 million annually on health care for the uninsured, and in Eaves’s estimation, Obamacare will partially ease that burden. He intends to lobby Republican Governor Nathan Deal to agree to expand Medicaid as the Affordable Care Act had originally mandated before the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional. The expansion was meant to cover adults under the poverty level who will not be eligible for the insurance exchange subsidies.

However, a spokesman for Deal told the publication via email that the state of Georgia will not be able to afford its share of the Medicaid expansion, which will amount to 10 percent of the total cost by 2020. Instead, he said the Obama administration should convert Georgia’s Medicaid payments to a “block grant.” That way, Georgia could “go a long way toward achieving the goals the secretary espouses without crippling the state’s budget,” he said.

Still, if the state does not expand the system it will miss out on about $40 billion in Medicaid funding over the next decade, noted Sebelius in the interview. As for the success of Obamacare, states like Georgia that have declined to expand Medicaid present “a big challenge” for enrollment efforts, she added.

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