New effort promises ‘straight talk’ to seniors on health reform law

“People have been getting spin on one side and the other side, and nobody’s been giving seniors all of the facts — the good and the bad — in one place [where] you can understand them and make up your mind,” he said. “This to us is very disturbing and frankly not acceptable.” 

Firman promised an unbiased presentation of the facts, but the outreach effort is likely to be seen as good news by Democrats. Seniors as a group are more likely to dislike the healthcare bill — and to vote — but Democrats continue to argue that they’re confident that will change as seniors become more informed. 

“All the polls around the country, including Nevada, indicate that when people are presented with ‘Do you want to do away with giving 25,000 small businesses in Nevada a 3 percent discount on the healthcare?’ they all say no,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday on the Christian Broadcasting Network. “ ‘Do you want to have Medicare extended for 19 years like we did it?’ They say yes. You don’t want to repeal that. ‘Do you want to open the doughnut hole again?’ They say no, so the more people know about healthcare, the better they like it.” 

AARP has separately launched the largest education campaign in its history to inform seniors about the reform law. 

“Older Americans have a lot at stake as the new health care law rolls out, which is why AARP is working from now through the full implementation of the law in 2014 to make sure they have straightforward, reliable information to make the best decisions for themselves and their families,” said AARP spokesman Jordan McNerney. “There are many new changes, and we know from previous efforts, like our work on Medicare Part D, that it takes time — even years — to increase awareness about important information.” 

The Obama administration also has an ongoing outreach campaign. 

“The misinformation that surrounded the health insurance reform debate makes it especially important that seniors are fully informed about how the Affordable Care Act impacts them,” said Peter Ashkenaz, spokesman for the agency that oversees Medicare. “We are continuing to reach out to seniors to help them understand their rights and benefits under the new law, such as the $250 rebate for Medicare beneficiaries who fall into the donut hole this year, and access to free preventive care services.”

Republicans say a lot of the law’s promises look good on paper but may be unsustainable as lawmakers renege on making some of the cuts and other political painful decisions called for in the law. 

The council endorsed the healthcare reform law in March, but Firman said his goal was to present the facts as agreed to by healthcare experts and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Still, there’s no question that the misconceptions corrected by the survey mostly work in the law’s favor: it slows Medicare spending and extends the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund, cuts the deficit without slashing basic Medicare benefits, closes the prescription drug “doughnut hole” and promises to improve long-term and chronic care.

The only vaguely negative answer: The pollster says the correct answer to the question of whether health plans will cut Medicare Advantage benefits and raise premiums is, “don’t know.”