Thursday, August 7, 2014

Getting started: Confusion, facts and questions

Plunging into health care access has been like going back to college.  Since leaving the education beat to take on a new assignment, my head is spinning with new ideas,  groups and acronyms  (though I confess I haven't read the 2,409-page Affordable Care Act).

I took the Christian Science Monitor's quiz on the act and scored a slightly-above-average 74 percent.  (I'm considering this a  "before"  benchmark.)  Mostly I missed questions about other states'  standings,  though I also overestimated the number of people who lacked health insurance when the act took effect  (it's 53 million).

I watched a Jimmy Kimmel video that drove home the need for good information on the topic.  His interviews show person after person saying they hate Obamacare but like the Affordable Care Act,  unaware that they're two names for the same thing.

I checked out "mythbuster"  sites from and  Both mentioned something that was new to me:  Members of Congress lost their federal employee insurance and were required to get their insurance through the new marketplaces this year (though they get an  "employer contribution"  from the federal government).

I sent queries last week to the press offices of Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan and Reps. Robert Pittenger,  Patrick McHenry and Richard Hudson asking about their experiences with choosing,  buying and using their new plans.  Pittenger's press secretary said Pittenger,  a Republican who represents the Ninth District,  refused to accept the subsidy.  But neither he nor any of the others have replied to the questions about their experience.  I'll keep trying and let you know what they say.

Even during this slow stretch between open enrollment periods,  there's a steady stream of news,  polls,  studies and opinions about our country's efforts to reshape access to health care.  I'll be sharing some of that here for discussion.

But my biggest interest is in what's playing out in real people's lives.  Who's getting care and who's hitting roadblocks?  What will all this mean for families,  businesses and taxpayers?  What do readers need to know,  as health-care consumers and voters,  to move forward?

My contact information is at right,  so please share stories that might not work as a blog comment.  Readers'  tips,  comments and questions enriched my education coverage for many years,  and I look forward to developing similar relationships here.


John Paul Galles said...

Thank you for doing your homework. That is so important to this topic. From my perspective, there are two fundamental problems that we are trying to correct. One is that for nearly 50 years, we have encouraged employer provided health care coverage. That has created the unfortunate incentive to use health care for all that any employee can get. They were not paying for it, so if they were sick or infirmed, they absorbed all the care they could get. There was little, if any, incentive to curb costs or spending. The second fundamental problem is that our nation is spending nearly 18% of GDP on health care. We cannot afford that cost and continue to do all we have done for years. It is unsustainable. We must pursue cost reductions in every way we confront health care. Thank you for your work.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Thanks, John Paul -- I feel like I should drop virtual balloons on your head for being the first commenter!

The consumer/cost question is one I'll be eager to explore more. My initial thought is using health care seems very different from most purchasing. I can be a reasonably wise consumer of clothes or groceries, and with a little more work, of cars and technology. I'm not sure how the average person makes an informed decision about surgery, drugs and such during a medical crisis. And while I might load up my closet if someone else was paying for my wardrobe, I don't want, say, an extra colonoscopy or twice as many checkups.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

EuroCat said...


Interesting first observation on the new beat! I myself found that the biggest benefit of the Affordable Care Act to me is that it forced me (as an individual insurance purchaser) to learn more about the whole labyrinth of health insurance, and I found how I had been greatly overinsured for the past 10 years (and had been greatly overpaying).

I was not an early fan of the ACA, because I am a huge proponent of a single-payer National Health system, but I have found that the ACA at least has provided more insurance choices for those of us stuck without employer-provided health insurance. We have a long way to go, though. When an entire industry of multiple middlemen has been constructed (insurance companies, hospital corporations, drug "managers", etc.) it is inevitable that we would be paying far too much for health care.

John Paul Galles said...

You are correct. We have a lot to learn to be good consumers of health care, but as more and more will be enrolled in individual plans and more people will be paying for their own coverage as well as their deductibles and co-pays, more will begin to ask questions to learn about the charges and the costs. Many times, there are lower rates simply for the asking. When I have been without coverage, I always asked for lower costs and they usually charged about 40 % less when I paid cash or by credit card. With access to the internet, there will be more and more sites to help people discern the costs involved and what charges are at least usual and customary. One other avenue for huge savings is to get your own tests done...blood work, urine and stool samples so that they are not doubled by the clinic when they arrange for those to be done. We have learned that the cost of prescriptions from Canada is much less that we would be charged in the U.S. That is just a beginning. By the way, I have followed this issue since I worked for a small business organization in Michigan in 1981.