We’re Not the Only Ones Worried about an Implementation “Train Wreck”

A top Senate Democrat changed his tune a little bit this week concerning PPACA. During a Senate Committee on Finance hearing, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the Committee’s chairman, expressed some serious concerns regarding the Obama Administration’s handling of the implementation of the health reform law he helped to draft.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified on behalf of her agency and the president’s budget proposals in front of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. During Sebelius’ testimony, Senator Baucus questioned her on the implementation efforts of the law, state exchange preparedness and employer and small business knowledge. Despite the secretary’s efforts to reassure the committee that exchanges will in fact be set up and ready for open enrollment come October 1, 2013, Senator Baucus expressed his fears that unless the administration improves its outreach efforts to businesses in particular, health reform implementation will be a “huge train wreck.”

Baucus is the first top Democratic senator to publically voice such bold concerns regarding implementation of health reform. Many consumers, he told the committee, will not have enough information available to them to make informed healthcare decisions. Small businesses are going to struggle if the administration doesn’t provide them with more information and more assistance in the near-term future. Baucus also spoke to the confusing nature of the law and the influx of rules and regulations that have been quickly been coming down from the Administration.

Specifically, Baucus expressed his concern over navigators, stating that whenever he has asked the Administration a question about this program, he has received no answer. He went on to wonder out loud if a top Democratic United States senator is having difficulty getting answers from the Administration, how are businesses and consumers going to get that information? Sebelius informed the committee that, come summer, there will be many people on the ground in every state educating the American people on the law and what to expect in the months to come. Additionally, she promised that HHS will be holding webinars to educate people on the role of navigators and how they may be of help during this process. However, when Senator Baucus asked for concrete data on the people in each state who will be going around educating people, the secretary had no answer. Baucus, who seemingly became progressively more frustrated as the secretary spoke, noted, “We need data…you never give me any data. You give me concepts, frankly.”

Since making this statement, Baucus, who is up for reelection next year, has received heat from both sides of the aisle. Some of his fellow Democrats noted that they, unlike Chairman Baucus, were pleased with the law and members of the Tea Party have deemed him a hypocrite. Meanwhile, some Senate Republicans have welcomed him into the “anti-ObamaCare” club despite his questionable timing. Following the hearing, Baucus had an aide release the following statement: “There should be no confusion about this. As Senator Baucus said yesterday, he thinks this is a good law and he’s simply holding the Administration’s feet to the fire to make sure they do their job implementing it correctly and informing people about the benefits that are available to them, which will bolster the efforts of folks working to implement it at the state level.”

Meanwhile, after the hearing, Secretary Sebelius told reporters that the exchanges are on track to open for open enrollment in October and the marketplaces will be fully implemented come January 2014.

HHS is requesting from Congress an additional $554 million to be used for outreach and education related to implementation of PPACA. While HHS may have a concrete use in mind for the money, it is highly unlikely that a Republican-controlled House will approve the additional funding. Recent surveys have indicated that the majority of the American public do not have enough information and do not have a true understanding of how the health reform law will impact them. There is a clear need for more education and outreach of PPACA. The trillion-dollar question, however, is still: How is this actually going to happen?

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