We need more accurate information about healthcare reform

Despite all the attention the federal health insurance exchange website, HealthCare.gov, has received, confusion and misinformation abounds.

Just the other day, my mother-in-law called me based on some news coverage she watched on TV. The reporter in the news segment said that everyone in America is required to have insurance under healthcare reform. Although that's technically true, it's a confusing and misleading statement.

My in-laws are both retired and already have health coverage through my father-in-law's old employer. They don't have to change a thing under the healthcare reform law, unless they want to. But if they're happy with their health plan--which they are--then there's no need for action.

The situation would, of course, be very different if my in-laws had received a notice of cancellation from their insurer. But fortunately for them, their plan already complies with the reform law's essential health benefits, making it available for them to continue receiving coverage.

I love my mother-in-law dearly, but she's a classic example of the American healthcare consumer. She has followed the news about the reform law in general, but isn't aware of any of the specifics. And, more importantly, she can't parse out truths from exaggerations or even downright misstatements.

Fortunately for my mother-in-law, she has one amazing family member who dedicates her work days to reading about and reporting on the reform law and all its requirements. With one quick and easy call to me, she was able to discern the accuracy of the news report, plus she chatted with her granddaughter, to boot. Not a bad combo.

But others aren't in a similar situation. To avoid countless misinterpretations of the law, they need to be reached out to in a clear and concise manner.

What's more, 47 percent of uninsured consumers--the exact people the reform law was created to help--say they don't know where to turn for information on the law. How can we get better information to this population group? We are a nation plugged into our phones, TVs and computers practically 24/7. How is it possible that we're failing to reach enough people to communicate with them?

Plenty of insurers are taking action, such as Independence Blue Cross's retail on wheels effort and UnitedHealth's 10-minute guide to health reform. But other insurers have opted to not even talk about the reform law or the exchanges in their TV commercials.

And of the insurers that have addressed reform, a wide variation in marketing strategies exists--some hope to spread the word about exchanges to recruit millions of new members, while others fear the politically-charged reform law and exchanges is too controversial and unpopular.

The Obama administration also bears some responsibility in failing to provide accurate information to the public amid the glitch-filled exchange rollout.

It's understandable that with all the political fighting surrounding the exchanges, insurers don't necessarily want to jump into the fray and advocate for one side over the other. However, without reform education, insurers could miss out on the huge opportunity of enrolling millions of new consumers through the exchanges.

Clearly, something has got to give. Consumers can't sign up for plans if they don't understand their options--or even know those options exist. They can't educate themselves about a topic they're unaware of. Since insurers could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the exchanges, I would suggest they take the message into their own hands, determining themselves how to frame their messages about exchanges and educate consumers about its advantages. At this point, I don't think it could hurt. - Dina (@HealthPayer)

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