Americans struggling to understand the exchanges and other components of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act can now get some help from the government.
The Obama administration on Monday launched its a public-outreach campaign to help consumers understand PPACA benefits with a new, consumer-focused HealthCare.gov website and a 24-hours-a-day consumer call center.
The new push from the administration comes in preparation for Oct. 1, the date when enrollment begins in the new state- and federally run exchanges.
Poll after poll has found that the majority of Americans remain largely unaware or confused about the law and the exchanges, despite the looming deadline.
A new report out last week from the Government Accountability Office pointed to challenges in opening the federal exchanges on time, underscoring the challenges the administration has in the coming months.
But on Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services insisted that the exchanges are “on target” for open enrollment and “other key milestones approaching in the months ahead.”
Even so, the government is stepping up its education efforts with a consumer-focused approach.
“The new website and toll-free number have a simple mission: to make sure every American who needs health coverage has the information they need to make choices that are right for themselves and their families — or their businesses,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.
The re-launched Healthcare.gov includes integration of social media, sharable content and engagement destinations for consumers to get more information. The site also includes a web chat functionality to support additional consumer inquiries.
The administration also announced a new site for Spanish-speaking consumers, CuidadoDeSalud.gov. That's aimed to alleviate previous concerns from some industry insiders that some non-English speakers will struggle to navigate PPACA.
The call center will provide educational information and, beginning Oct. 1., will assist consumers with application completion and plan selection.
In addition to English and Spanish, the call center provides assistance in more than 150 languages through an interpretation and translation service, HHS said.
Customer service representatives are available for assistance via a toll-free number at 1-800-318-2596 and hearing-impaired callers can dial 1-855-889-4325 for assistance.
A number of organizations, including Enroll America, are working on enrollment efforts.
The success of the law depends on enrollment. Without participation, experts warn, health care costs may surge because not enough healthy people will participate to offset benefits payouts.
Beginning Jan. 1, uninsured Americans will be forced to pay a penalty of either $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, if they don’t buy insurance. The fine increases each year.