President Obama's top health official asked the nation's pediatric groups on Monday to spread the word about benefits within the federal health care law, a plea that coincides with mounting pressure to implement the ambitious overhaul before its main provisions kick in next year.
"Our ability to get more people covered and create healthier families is going to be determined by our ability to educate people and sign them up. And we're going to need your help," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the Pediatric Academies Societies' annual meeting in Washington, in remarks prepared for delivery.
The secretary was referring to the Affordable Care Act's state-based insurance markets, where qualified consumers without employer-based insurance will be able to buy health plans with the help of government tax credits.
Coverage from the markets, or "exchanges," will take effect in 2014. About half the states asked the federal government to set up their exchanges for them instead of taking on the task — an unanticipated trend that is stretching the federal government's resources.
The Obama administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are paying close attention to the rollout of "Obamacare" in coming months, particularly as polls show many Americans do not understand how the reforms may affect their lives.
While Republican opponents continue their assault on the contentious reforms, HHS is touting the overhaul's benefits and enlisting so-called "navigators" who will be paid to help Americans enroll in the exchanges.
Also next year, certain states will extend Medicaid coverage — with help from federal taxpayers — to those making up to 138 percent of the poverty level.
"This means millions of families that had been priced or locked out of the insurance market are finally going to have access to health insurance," Mrs. Sebelius said. "But we can't make the possibilities of this law a reality without your help."
Mrs. Sebelius said some aspects of the law are already in effect, keeping preventative care costs in check and helping people with pre-existing health problems find insurers for the first time.
"There are parents putting off check-ups and vaccinations because they're worried about a co-pay that no longer exists," she said. "There are families who are afraid to call up their insurance company because they don't know their child who was born with a heart defect can no longer be turned away."
The Supreme Court upheld key aspects of the health care law in June, but said states could decide not to expand Medicaid enrollment within their borders without risking existing federal funding for the program.
Under the law, the federal government will pay for 100 percent of the expanded Medicaid population in 2014 through 2016 before scaling down its contribution to 90 percent of the tab by 2020.
"We also need you to help make it clear what's at stake when it comes to expanding Medicaid," Mrs. Sebelius told the conference.
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