At a news conference today, President Barack Obama responded to critics of his health care law, the Affordable Care Act, saying his administration is working hard to meet deadlines and launch the law's next features. A nice recap is posted on Kaiser Health News.
He's talking mainly about October 1st, when online insurance marketplaces launch across the country. Rhode Island's own health benefits exchange is on track to meet this deadline, according to my most recent conversations with exchange director Christy Ferguson and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts. When it goes "live," uninsured Rhode islanders who won't get coverage through an employer or those whose health coverage costs more than 9% of their income (in a nutshell), as well as those who are eligible to receive Medicaid, will be able to go on the exchange and shop for coverage, determine whether they qualify for assistance, and get signed up for a plan - whether it's through a private insurer selling on the exchange or a state plan like Medicaid.
But Obama tried to remind people that this deadline will come and go for most Americans, because a majority get their health insurance through employers:
"But I think the main message I want to give to the American people here is despite all the hue and cry and, you know, sky-is-falling predictions about this stuff, if you've already got health insurance, then that part of "Obamacare" that affects you, it's pretty much already in place. And that's about 85 percent of the country."
And the parts that affect this group have to do with consumer protections - things like prohibiting insurance companies from refusing to cover you if you have a pre-existing condition, allowing you to keep your kids, up to age 26, on your health plan, and requiring insurers to cover more preventative services.
Because Rhode Island made a couple of key decisions early on - the decision to develop and run its own online insurance marketplace, or exchange, early on, and the decision to accept the initial round of federal dollars to expand eligibility for Medicaid to cover more of the low-income, uninsured - it seems we've kind of been spared the brouhaha that seems to be roiling in some other states over how to implement the ACA.
But it still remains to be seen how effectively the health benefits exchange will be rolled out, including the kinds of community outreach it will require to let people know about it and get them signing up.
One thing that may help: Obama announced the enrollment form has shrunk, down from a whopping 21 pages to around three for an individual.