Wanted: Moms and athletes needed to help sell health care overhaul


McClatchy Washington Bureau

The Obama administration continued to implement the national health care overhaul on Monday with the launch of a redesigned consumer information website, a new 24-hour Affordable Care Act hotline and plans to huddle with the National Football League.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she’ll ask the NFL, other sports leagues and even mothers for help in spreading the word about getting people enrolled for health coverage next year – especially younger adults.

“Moms can be very influential with that demographic group,” Sebelius said at a briefing for the news media, adding that professional athletes might also be helpful. She said no formal agreements have been reached. But her intent to recruit athletes as health care cheerleaders could score points with the public.

“We never anticipated that this could be a government-only outreach effort,” Sebelius said. “We’ve always had the intention to include everybody; from the provider community to insurers, to faith-based groups to community outreach groups.”

The redesigned HealthCare.gov website also will play a huge part in raising public awareness about Obamacare. The website has undergone a complete makeover, from a policy-oriented resource to a consumer-focused destination, where people can learn how to enroll for coverage on the new federally run, online health insurance marketplaces, or “exchanges,” that will launch this fall in 34 states.

Other states will have state-run exchanges or state-federal exchanges with different website locales. Consumers in those states will be steered to the proper destination if they use Healthcare.gov.

The health care law requires most Americans to have health coverage beginning in 2014 or face a fine for noncompliance. An estimated 7 million Americans are expected to get health insurance on the new marketplaces during plan enrollment, which runs from October 2013 through March 2014.

Over the summer, the HealthCare.gov website will add features that allow consumers to create accounts, fill out online insurance applications and shop for health plans beginning in October.

For consumers who speak Spanish, a similar website, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, will be updated to provide the same functions.

In addition, a new hotline at 1-800-318-2596 is available to provide similar information about the new health care overhaul, with operators taking calls round-the-clock from six different call center locations.

Eleven call centers with 9,000 operators will be up and running by Oct. 1, when operators will start helping customers apply for coverage and plan their insurance selections. Hearing-impaired callers with TTY/TDD technology can get assistance at 1-855-889-4325.

The call center will offer assistance in more than 150 languages, using an interpretation and translation service.

The new developments come on the heels of two reports last week that found that the Obama administration has missed numerous deadlines and was behind schedule in computer and technological work needed make the marketplaces function properly in the 34 states where the federal government will operate them.

Stymied by congressional Republicans’ refusal to fund key parts of Obamacare and the reluctance of GOP-led states to operate their own exchanges, Sebelius has had to solicit corporate donations and borrow money from other parts of her budget to fund outreach and infrastructure efforts related to the Affordable Care Act.

In one report, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found a 60-day delay in issuing funds for “navigators,” the outreach and enrollment workers who eventually will help people choose a health plan on the exchanges. Sebelius said Monday that the navigator funds would go out in July and August.

Another GAO report found similar delays on the Small Business Health Options Programs, or SHOPs, which small employers and their workers will use to purchase coverage through the exchanges. The GAO found that 44 percent of the key SHOP-related activities targeted for completion by March 31 were behind schedule.

Both reports said the missed deadlines may not affect implementation, but that “additional missed deadlines closer to the start of enrollment could do so.”

“We will be ready on Oct. 1st,” Sebelius said Monday. “I’m confident we’re on track to get it done.”

Sebelius said she’s concerned that people will get misinformation about their coverage options or won’t understand how the law will affect them individually. But she said focus groups have shown that once the law is explained to consumers, people generally support the legislation.

Email: tpugh@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @TonyPughDC

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