A Democratic senator who helped craft President Obama’s signature health-care law gave the administration “a failing grade” Wednesday for its efforts to educate the public and small employers about sweeping changes set to take effect in eight months.
“I just see a huge train wreck,” Sen. Max Baucus of Montana told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, which he chairs.
“I’m very concerned that not enough is being done so far. Very concerned,” said Baucus. He cited examples of perplexed small-business owners and polling data showing that most Americans either do not know much about the coming changes or have false information about what to expect.
“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.
Baucus’s comments came a week after the release of Obama’s $3.77 trillion budget for fiscal 2014, which included a request for additional funding to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, one of the biggest pieces of U.S. social legislation since the 1960s.
Sebelius told the committee that the administration takes outreach and education “very, very seriously.” She said efforts are underway to address the concerns of small-business owners and to organize a public outreach campaign for the summer.
“We also understand that people have a lot of questions, and are deploying as many resources as we can to answer those questions and get folks ready,” she said.
A main concern is the creation of state online marketplaces where consumers will be able to buy private health insurance at subsidized rates intended to make the coverage affordable for those with family incomes of up to $90,000 a year.
Those exchanges are due to start enrolling beneficiaries Oct. 1 and are open to individuals and businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Full operations are scheduled for Jan. 1.
The federal government is required by law to operate exchanges in 33 of 50 states — those that have not set up their own marketplaces.