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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Primary Care Doctors Need Connections to ACA Information and to Navigators, Counselors

As the effort to promote the Health Insurance Marketplace and enroll consumers gears up, and clinics and community organizations hire, train and deploy the various “assisters” who will help patients and families get coverage, we shouldn’t ignore one of the most important touchpoints between the health care system and consumers – patient/physician interaction. Patients trust their doctors and may look to them for guidance about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Unfortunately, many doctors haven’t been well educated about the ACA or what’s going to happen once the Marketplace is live.

The national American Academy of Pediatrics recently conducted a survey of its members and found that improvement is needed in pediatrician awareness of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The survey, conducted in late 2012, showed that nearly half of pediatricians are vaguely or not at all familiar with key components of the ACA. Specifically, they lacked knowledge of some components that could directly benefit their practices – such as the temporary increase in payment from Medicaid to Medicare levels, and coverage of Bright Futures services with no cost-sharing for children enrolled in new insurance plans.

Pediatricians also cited low confidence in their ability to respond to parents’ questions regarding the new law. Only 5% of pediatricians reported that they are very confident in their ability, while 33% reported that they are not at all confident, with the rest somewhat or moderately confident. Clinicians such as pediatricians are not yet being asked many questions by their patients and parents, so they have not been motivated to learn their own key points or prepare their office staff to provide information. In the AAP survey, 86% of pediatricians reported that they are seldom or never asked questions concerning the ACA. Most of their knowledge to date comes from what they see in the media, so they are very much aware of aspects such as the ban on pre-existing condition exclusions, the requirements to have health insurance by 2014 or pay a fine, and the provision allowing young adults to stay on parents’ health insurance up to age 26. But once the Marketplace is up and running, and public relations campaigns about enrollment are in full swing, and assisters are everywhere, what will they need to know so they can effectively advise their patients?

Locally, two major primary care provider associations did an assessment of members which confirmed an interest in more support and information. In May 2013, the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (ICAAP) and the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians (IAFP) conducted an informal survey asking pediatricians and family physicians to estimate need for Marketplace information among patients, patient’s parents and family members, and clinic staff. Responses were received from nearly 40 unique medical practice sites employing over 500 physicians. Only 3 responded that they would not be interested in any education or services related to the Marketplace. Nearly all (85%) want information on the Marketplace to post or handout to patients, and almost as many (75%) want a counselor or assister to speak to their practice staff.

While the number of medical practices that are independent, small business is dwindling, and most staff have insurance coverage via a hospital or health system, staff may still need information for friends and family members or to make new choices if products through the Marketplace are better for their families. Only about a quarter of physicians responding expected their health system to provide information on the Marketplace for patients and staff, and most (65%) said their health system was definitely not planning to employ navigators or counselors, which may be more available in the safety net clinics than in private systems. But the need for information – even in private practices – is there! Many physicians attested to seeing their patients lose insurance due to the economy, and pediatricians regularly note that while their patients are insured via All Kids or private insurance, many of their parents or primary caregivers are not. Children also age out of All Kids or their parents’ insurance and so many young adults will seek help in securing coverage.

For the ACA roll out to work, consumers need to get quality, consistent messages about the need to enroll and how to use the health care system, no matter where they are. Targeting efforts in low income communities and in clinics that currently serve the uninsured makes sense, but the ACA effects everyone, and all primary care offices should be able to connect a patient or family who needs coverage to someone who can help them.

Scott G. Allen, MS, Executive Director
Illinois Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics


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