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Donna Shalala: What Americans need to know on health care

Jun. 25, 2013
 
Document, Stethoscope & Magnifying Glass
Document, Stethoscope & Magnifying Glass / Getty Images

This fall, just four months from now, tens of millions of Americans who don’t have health insurance will be able to get a quality plan tailored to their specific needs and budget. It’s a major attribute of the nation’s new health care law, the Affordable Care Act, and we need to make sure that Americans who are eligible gain access as quickly as possible.

After an avalanche of criticism by opponents of the Affordable Care Act, it’s no surprise that a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that four in 10 Americans (42 percent) are unaware that the new health care law still stands. At the same time, 12 percent believe it was repealed by Congress, 7 percent believe it was overturned by the Supreme Court, and 23 percent simply don’t know the current status of the law.

In the absence of facts, too many Americans know too little about the law that will have an immediate impact on the health of their families — and that means they won’t be able to take advantage of the benefits. To put it simply: whether you support the Affordable Care Act or not — and I happen to be a strong supporter — everyone should support making sure that all Americans have the basic information about their legal rights so that they can make the best decisions for their families.

As secretary of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, I worked with private sector organizations through the “Insure Kids Now” campaign ranging from Safeway to General Motors, Kmart, McDonalds and other private sector partners. Together, we supported efforts to help implement the Children’s Health Insurance Program in all 50 states. As a result of families getting information about health care options for their kids, today, nearly eight million children are covered.

Other administrations have done the same. Through the “Access to Benefits Coalition,” former President George W. Bush and then-secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson teamed up with a not-for-profit and the private industry to provide the American people with the information they needed to make the best decisions about the health of their families. They worked in coordination with pharmaceutical manufacturers and foundations to help enroll seniors and Americans with disabilities in the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Now, similar efforts are underway. In the same way that the Democratic Clinton administration and the Republican Bush administration worked in partnership with the private sector to provide basic information to America’s families about their health care options, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is working with the not-for-profit Enroll America in addition to foundations and health care stakeholders. This private-public outreach and enrollment partnership will help eligible Americans learn how to sign up for better, more affordable health care coverage.

And these efforts are backed by the law. In fact, the Public Health Service Act was written to allow for the kind of public-private partnerships that over the years have been invaluable in providing families information about their health care options.

Poll after poll has shown that health care ranks among the most important issues facing American families — and thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions will soon be able to take action to protect themselves and their families, many of them for the first time. It’s important that people who are unfamiliar with the possibilities know what is available and how the system will work. Ultimately, providing information to families empowers them to make their own decisions.

From the implementation of the children’s health insurance program to the Medicare prescription drug benefit, our country has a strong bi-partisan history of supporting efforts to provide Americans with the information they need to do what’s right for their families.

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, the bottom line is more information is better than less information, and Americans deserve the right to make informed choices.

— Donna Shalala is the president of the University of Miami

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