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Health reform remains a mystery

By Jay MacDonald ·
Friday, March 29, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

Here's a fun exercise: Stop any average Jane or Joe on the street and ask them to list three salient features of health care reform. Then stand back and count the duhs.

What's the biggest obstacle now facing President Barack Obama's historic overhaul of American health insurance, what with early enrollment in the law's new state health exchanges just six months away?

Most people still don't get it -- including those who will be able to afford health insurance for the first time because of it.

Survey finds a lack of understanding

A poll released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than two-thirds (67 percent) of uninsured Americans age 65 and under, and 57 percent of the overall population, say they do not understand how the Affordable Care Act will affect their lives. Among those from households with annual incomes of less than $40,000 who thus would be most likely to use the exchanges, 68 percent felt they had insufficient information to understand the impact health reform will have on their family.

In fact, what little clear sky the public was able to glimpse during the three-year political thunderstorm over health insurance reform seems to have clouded over with time. Today, 57 percent incorrectly believe the federal government will negotiate prices with doctors, half believe the law will help illegal immigrants buy health insurance, and 40 percent -- including 35 percent of seniors -- still expect "death panels" to spring forth to make life-or-death decisions for Medicare beneficiaries.

Most have doubts

No wonder a majority of those polled were less than certain that health care reform would control costs, improve the quality of care and protect consumers. After all, if change is usually scary, change we don't understand is even more so.

Having written about most parts of the health reform law during the past three years, I'll be the first to admit it's a bear: incredibly complex, cleverly interwoven and, in my opinion, frequently brilliant. What's more, because most of its impact so far has been confined to hospitals, doctor's offices and insurance boardrooms, the public at large hasn't really had a chance to kick the tires.

But with tire-kicking time fast approaching as the state exchanges open this fall, it's clear from these poll numbers that federal and state health officials, and those of us who write about them, have plenty of work ahead to introduce Americans to their new, supposedly improved health care system.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus

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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.

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