Baucus warns of 'huge train wreck' enacting ObamaCare provisions

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Wednesday he fears a "train wreck" as the Obama administration implements its signature healthcare law.

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Baucus, the chairman of the chamber's powerful Finance Committee and a key architect of the healthcare reform law, said he fears people do not understand how the law will work.

"I just see a huge train wreck coming down," he told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a Wednesday hearing. "You and I have discussed this many times, and I don't see any results yet."

Baucus pressed Sebelius for details about how the Health Department will explain the law and raise awareness of its provisions, which are supposed to take effect in just a matter of months.

"I'm very concerned that not enough is being done so far — very concerned," Baucus said.


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He pressed Sebelius to explain how her department will overcome entrenched misunderstandings about what the healthcare law does. 

"Small businesses have no idea what to do, what to expect," Baucus said.

Citing anecdotal evidence from small businesses in his home state, Baucus asked Sebelius for specifics about how it is measuring public understanding of the law.

"You need data. Do you have any data? You've never given me data. You only give me concepts, frankly," he said.

Sebelius said in response that the administration is not independently monitoring public awareness of specific provisions but will be embarking on an education campaign beginning this summer.

Baucus is facing a competitive reelection fight next year, and Republicans are sure to attack him over his role as the primary author of the healthcare law. 

A messy rollout of the law's major provisions, months before Baucus faces voters, could feed into the GOP's criticism.

Wednesday's hearing wasn't the first time Democrats, including Baucus, have raised concerns about the implementation. But while other lawmakers have toned down their public comments as they've gotten answers from the Health secretary, Baucus said Sebelius has not addressed his fears.

"I'm going to keep on this until I feel a lot better about it," Baucus told Sebelius.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found deep and persistent misconceptions about the healthcare law. Public awareness was highest for the most politically unpopular provisions, and many people wrongly believed the law contains provisions like a "death panel" to make decisions about end-of-life care.

Enrollment in the healthcare law's insurance exchanges is slated to begin in October, for coverage that begins in January. Baucus, though, said he's worried exchanges won't be ready in time.

"For the marketplaces to work, people need to know about them," he said. "People need to know their options and how to enroll."