HHS uses webchat to trumpet benefits of healthcare reform

Top White House health officials on Wednesday used the lull of August to highlight the insurance reforms found in the Democrats' new healthcare law.

Sponsored by the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), the live webchat was just the latest in a series of high-profile events designed to remind consumers and voters of the protections and coverage benefits the law contains.

"Arm yourself with the facts," said Jay Angoff, head of HHS's Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (OCIIO). "Make sure you know what your rights are."

Faced with polls indicating consumers — particularly seniors — remain bewildered by what the reform law actually does, Democrats have persistently touted every new benefit that's come along. On Monday, for instance, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced $46 million in grants to help states ensure health insurers aren't hiking rates inappropriately.

Wednesday's webchat is indication that the touting strategy holds even when nothing new is being announced.

"The health insurance market isn't always fair," said Liz Fowler, OCIIO's deputy director for policy. The reforms, she added, were "intended to level the playing field." 

Fowler would know. The former Wellpoint executive rejoined the Finance Committee to help write the reform law.

The HHS event was staged on the same day that the National Business Group on Health released a survey finding that many large employers plan to hike costs and cut benefits to their workers, largely as a result of new requirements in the health reform law.