Insurers must take action to prevent health exchange 'train wreck'


It's pretty typical of the 24/7 news media outlets to jump to report a story without either confirming, following up on or gathering more information. Case in point: Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) equated the health reform law with a "train wreck"--a comment made particularly poignant since he was a key author and driver of the legislation.

But less than two days after it was first reported all over major news outlets and trade newspapers, Baucus himself sought to clarify and add context to his remark. Or, in other words, he was doing the media's job for them. They should have read his entire conversation with U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday and provided the necessary background behind his statement.

I'm happy to give credit where credit is due, and so I commend newspapers like Politico, Reuters, The Washington Post and many other that accurately reported that Baucus was specifically referring to the job HHS has done in educating and promoting the health insurance exchanges to the public. He wasn't, like the Washington Times wrote, accusing the entire reform law of heading for a train wreck.

(Mind you, I'm talking solely about headlines, which notoriously sell papers and compel online readers to click on articles. I'm not addressing the details of the actual articles, most of which did clarify Baucus' specific message.)

Baucus told Sebelius he believes "the administration's public information campaign on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, I think, deserve a failing grade. You need to fix it," he said. After the hearing, Baucus explained that his "train wreck" comments were addressing the public's general confusion about the reform law and the health insurance exchanges in particular.

"This is a good law, but it can't work if people don't understand it," Baucus said in a statement after the hearing. "The administration must use every day between now and Oct. 1 to have insurance marketplaces up and running."

What's interesting about this story is that Baucus was essentially serving as a spokesperson for insurance companies. If only the media had accurately represented his comments, perhaps the message would have been received throughout the country. It was the exact type of outreach and promotion that insurers desperately need the HHS to be taking.

There is legitimate concern about whether the federal and state governments can successfully promote the exchanges. Based on a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost 60 percent of consumers still don't understand the reform law.

The result of failing to educate the public is potentially dire for insurers--if too few consumers actually know about the online marketplaces, they won't sign up and buy insurance through them and insurers won't reap the forecasted financial benefits of acquiring millions of new members.

That's why I highly recommend and urge that all insurers, big and small, take measures to inform all consumers about the exchanges and their value in providing affordable health plans. We all know too well that we often can't rely on the bureaucracy that is the federal government. If insurers want to guarantee they reap additional revenue in the post-reform market, they must take matters into their own hands.

So shout it loud and shout it often. The public must learn about exchanges. Or recruit others to shout to the public for you--just be sure the media doesn't snarl your message in the process. - Dina (@HealthPayer)