Implementing the Affordable Care Act: Getting Beyond Drama to the Real Deal on Health Reform

Jul 31, 2013, 10:39 AM

Linda Wright Moore, MS, is a senior communications officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Headshot of Linda Wright Moore

The swirl of controversy and nonstop debate around the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act  (ACA) is like a play that never ends: Every time you think you’re coming to the finale, another character or plot twist crops up—and the production drags on … and on.

So it goes with the ACA: Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the new law to be mostly sound, but fudged on the state mandate to expand Medicaid just enough to keep the drama twisting and turning—and to make many poor and uninsured people ineligible for government subsidies.

Meanwhile, repeated attempts to repeal the law—at least 38 to date—have contributed to a jarring statistic: 42 percent of Americans are unaware that the ACA is the law of the land. In light of the lack of knowledge that the health reform law is the law—it’s no surprise that half of the public admits to not having enough information to understand the likely impact of the ACA on themselves and their families.

Polls seem to reflect the ambivalence and confusion over the health reform law. While there are consistently more negative than positive perceptions of the ACA (42 percent oppose it, 35 percent support it, and 23 percent are undecided), attitudes about the value of health insurance are surprisingly consistent: Eighty-seven percent of Americans say it is very important to have health insurance—including young people and the uninsured. The biggest barrier to getting coverage is the obvious one, which the ACA aims to address: cost.

So what can be done to get clear and useful information (rather than more drama) to people who will be faced with an array of choices through state insurance exchanges less than two months from now, starting October 1st?

That will be the focus of an RWJF-sponsored discussion and luncheon I will moderate on Friday, August 2 at the annual meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in Orlando. Register here to attend “The Real Deal: ACA and the Underserved.”  The panelists will include: Jacqui Anderson, director of Consumer Voices for Coverage, an RWJF program that enables consumer advocates to participate in leading and shaping state health marketplaces; Aletha Maybank, MD, MPH, a physician, multimedia blogger, columnist for, and deputy health commissioner in New York City; and Keon Gilbert, DrPH, MA, MPA, an assistant professor of public health who is studying the health needs and perspectives of African American men.

We’ll have a practical discussion of what journalists and other communications professionals can do to cut through the partisan sideshow surrounding ACA, to make sure people—especially the poor and underserved—get information they need to make responsible decisions for themselves and their families, when the state insurance marketplaces launch and ACA implementation begins. (Check out a new RWJF report on how technology is helping to streamline health insurance enrollment in eight states.)

And follow us on Twitter at #NABJ13. We’ll give you the real deal on the ACA—no drama.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.