Less than five months to go – Is the U.S. ready for health reform?

By Maggie 

We’re less than five months away from the big day. No, not the start of Oscar movie season. October 1, 2013 marks the official launch of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. And the real question is, are we ready for this?

According to recent reports, we’re not. Many are concerned that not enough of the 49 million uninsured Americans understand what health coverage will be available to them on October 1st. Some insurers are wary of participating, small business owners continue to talk about dropping coverage for their employees and younger individuals wonder if it’s easier to pay the penalty and not secure coverage for themselves. The Connect for Health Colorado Exchange just launched its public education campaign last week. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has allocated $8 million for public education and is depending on big insurers to also kick in advertising dollars. But is five months enough time for millions of people who have never had health insurance before and have no experience accessing the system to understand what they’re about to purchase? I’m not so sure.

The truth of the matter is that marketing health care and health insurance is complicated. Evaluating pre-existing conditions with family size and annual household incomes doesn’t come into play when you’re buying a pair of shoes or a plane ticket. Insurers and providers cannot solely rely on traditional advertising to get their message across. In fact, according to a Colorado Consumer Health Initiative survey, potential Exchange customers want “simple TurboTax-style guidance, help from people in their communities whom they trust and side-by-side comparisons of complex health plans.” Thus while Exchange navigators will bear much of the responsibility in educating consumers, in order for insurers to succeed in marketing themselves on the Exchange, they must have a local presence. That’s where integrated communication campaigns that incorporate advertising with community relations initiatives can play a huge role.

Health reform will change many things about this massive industry. One of the biggest changes will be in how care is actually delivered. We simply do not have enough physicians in this country available to provide care to the currently and newly insured. Instead, upon the implementation of health reform, we’ll see much greater utilization of the medical home/care team model. Americans are going to have to get used to not always seeing a physician when they come in for an appointment. The availability of midlevel providers, and awareness of their skill sets, will be critical. Fortunately, there’s a lot of great work already taking place in Colorado around this issue among Accountable Care Organizations and several private primary care practices. Now is the time to educate consumers on not only the value of obtaining health insurance but also the changing model of care delivery.

For many specialty physicians, the Affordable Care Act brings with it feelings of trepidation. There are proposed changes to the Stark Law and Medicare cuts on the horizon. From my perspective, however, this should be considered a time of opportunity for specialists. In order to succeed, physician-owned specialty groups must position themselves as cost savers that provide more innovative care than what is delivered in a hospital setting.

The true winners of health reform implementation will be insurers and providers who keep costs low and perform efficiently and effectively. TBG client, Kaiser Permanente, has been doing this for decades by offering integrated patient care that’s leveraged through robust electronic health records. And now, Kaiser Permanente is viewed as the health care model of the future in our country, according to The New York Times.

In a perfect world, the Affordable Care Act and launch of online health insurance marketplaces would result in an increased focus on preventive care, lower costs and better health. At TBG, the changes in the industry represent an exciting time for us as we help our health care clients craft messages that speak to their expertise and educate consumers on the value of their services.

It’s hard to believe that after so much analyzing and talking head shtick the Affordable Care Act will actually go into effect this fall. Stay tuned…We’re in for a bumpy ride.

Looking for resources and information on the Connect for Health Colorado Exchange launch and health reform implementation? I recommend Healthy Policy Solutions for informative, in-depth analysis.