Fear, not website troubles, is healthcare reform's biggest obstacle

Fear of dealing with the complexity of the medical system poses a bigger obstacle to healthcare reform than the problems with HealthCare.gov, according to a former healthcare navigator.

Marina Sáenz Luna wrote in The Daily Yonder that the bad publicity over the troubled website has only amplified the fear people--particularly in rural America--have about everything related to healthcare, including the mandate, potential fines and insurance coverage.

During the first month of the federal healthcare marketplace rollout, Sáenz Luna said she became a certified "Navigator" and offered enrollment assistance for a nonprofit in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. She was immediately struck by the fact that most of the families were afraid to be honest about their pre-existing conditions and immigration status.

"During an enrollment event, I heard story after story from students and older adults," she wrote. "I got asked what would happen to their Medicaid, Medicare, their current insurance plans. They feared having their most basic coverage taken away. And they were confused by what they had heard from the media."

Sáenz Luna urged the rural healthcare industry to pay more attention to motivating people with what they stand to gain under healthcare reform. Access to affordable healthcare should dominate these conversations, she said. And she is encouraged by the response over the past few weeks.

"Since the healthcare marketplace launched, I have met families who want health coverage so badly, they have begun to put money aside for their first payment," she said. "I have begun to see a younger and more computer-literate generation of healthcare recipients stepping up to help their parents, relatives and abuelitas (grandmothers) enroll."

Meanwhile, uninsured Americans have even more time to evaluate the different plan options and enroll in coverage. The White House announced late last week that consumers have until Dec. 23 to enroll in a private health plan for new coverage to start Jan. 1, 2014, a delay of eight days, FierceHealthPayer reported.

However, March 31 remains the last day to purchase health insurance on the exchanges and avoid a tax penalty.

Federal health officials acknowledged consumers might need more time to review and select coverage options on the glitch-plagued website. The Obama administration hopes to resolve all technical glitches with the site by the end of November.

Critics claimed the website would benefit from the expertise of computer experts. But Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, said Sunday on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, sometimes technical elements don't work as designed or intended. "We've certainly had plenty of mistakes and things that haven't worked the way we want to," said Zuckerberg, reported Mediaite. "The right thing here is just to keep on focusing on building a service that you think is right in the long term."

To learn more:
- read The Daily Yonder article
- here's the Mediaite report