EDITORIALS

Worried, confused about Obamacare? The silence from LePage is deafening

In this August 2013 file photo, Helen Ness, left, speaks about her struggles to find answers to heath insurance questions during a public forum on Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield's proposed narrow network for the upcoming Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange at Central Maine Community College in Auburn.
Amber Waterman | Sun Journal
In this August 2013 file photo, Helen Ness, left, speaks about her struggles to find answers to heath insurance questions during a public forum on Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield's proposed narrow network for the upcoming Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange at Central Maine Community College in Auburn.
Posted Oct. 02, 2013, at 12:53 p.m.

One thing is clear: Americans are worried and confused about the federal Affordable Care Act. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation/NBC poll released Sept. 30, slightly more than half of those surveyed are worried about what health insurance changes will cost them, while slightly less than half are confused about how the law will work.

That anxiety is particularly understandable if people are getting their information from politicized debate. Or not getting it at all.

Some lawmakers still call Obamacare a “bill.” (It’s not a bill, clearly; it’s law.) Others have provided more specific misinformation. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for instance, claimed United Parcel Service workers will lose their health insurance and be forced into “an exchange with no employer subsidy.” (The delivery service is only ending coverage for spouses if they can get insurance with their own employer.)

Just as lawmakers and public figures can distort the law — and shut down the federal government over it — they can also use their platforms for much good. Quality, reasonably priced health insurance shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

At the very least, legislators and community leaders — including physicians, hospital executives and business groups — should be explaining to their constituents, patients or members where they can get information about what the law will mean for them. They can explain that glitches were expected and shouldn’t stop people from pursuing their options. Providing information doesn’t need to mean an endorsement of Obamacare; it’s good service.

Tuesday was the first day people could sign up for health insurance coverage under the new health insurance marketplace — an online store where Maine residents can compare plans. People can learn more about their coverage options at www.enroll207.com — a site developed by the Maine Health Access Foundation — or by directly visiting www.healthcare.gov.

Here are some more important points:

— Contrary to what some think, Maine does have a marketplace; it’s just run by the federal government, not the state. The money to run the marketplaces is not tied to appropriations from Congress.

— When residents look for health insurance plans on it, they should find out whether they’re eligible for financial assistance. The assistance isn’t just for people with low incomes. A majority of newly eligible people are estimated to qualify for aid.

— Navigators are available for free to help people find plans and get signed up. Residents can go to www.enroll207.com/locator to find someone certified to help.

It should be easy — and not political suicide — for state and local leaders to provide this kind of fundamental information. Regardless of party, legislators should be sharing the basics with their constituents, so they can make informed choices about their health care. Nurses and doctors, too, can educate their patients.

Additionally, the Maine Bureau of Insurance has proactively organized informational sessions about Obamacare and publicized important reminders about watching out for scams, but what about the Department of Labor and the Department of Economic and Community Development?

They, too, should be spearheading efforts to inform businesses about how Obamacare will affect them. After all, businesses listed “cost of health insurance” as the first priority government should tackle to improve the state’s economic competitiveness, according to the Making Maine Work report, created by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine Development Foundation.

Of course one office in particular has a big platform from which to educate the public: It belongs to Gov. Paul LePage. But after telling Bloomberg news in 2012 that he’s “not lifting a finger” to set up Maine’s health insurance marketplace — also called an exchange — it’s clear the state shouldn’t expect him to help educate the public. In the interview he continued, saying, “We’re not going to get involved. We’re going to let Mr. Obama do a federal exchange. It’s his bill.”

LePage didn’t want to be involved in setting up the exchange, and he apparently doesn’t plan to put out information about where people can learn about their health care options. But at the very least, can he refrain from calling Obamacare a bill?

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