Tom Keene's EconoChat

Evergreen Health Co-op of Maryland's Peter Beilenson on Obamacare


The health-care industry, representing 18 percent of the American economy, is in a state of flux as the Affordable Care Act takes hold. Evergreen Health Co-op’s chief executive sounds off on Obamacare.

Why was the launch of the insurance exchanges so troubled?
There’s no question that there were glitches early on, and it does seem that it’s due to excessive traffic. That’s actually surprising because people thought there wouldn’t be quite as many people visiting the websites in the first day or so.

But the second thing is we have to look at this as the most significant period in health-care reform in the United States in about 50 years, since the start of Medicare and Medicaid. It took a long time for Medicare to get to where it is today. It took 48 years of changes and tweaks.

As a physician yourself, what’s your message to doctors concerned about Obamacare?
Well, actually for doctors, they’re going to get many more paying patients. This is a good thing. It’s also a good thing for insurance companies. Because there will be many more people with coverage, doctors should be trying to learn exactly how the exchanges work and encouraging people who are not currently covered to go to the insurance marketplace.

You provide insurance coverage on the exchange in Maryland. How’s that going?
Well, because the exchange was not working terribly well, we’re not sure how many people were actually able to enroll early on. We’ll get reports from the exchange on an every-few-days basis over the next couple of weeks.

I can tell you, though, that we were deluged with phone calls to our call center where we were actually getting people scheduled to enroll.

Why do surveys show half of Americans opposed to Obamacare?
The Obama administration is headed by perhaps the best communicator in my 50 years of life. Yet it hasn’t done a good job communicating the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. So the messages were co-opted by the opponents. Misinformation has been a significant problem. What we have found in focus groups that we did for our own co-op in Maryland is this: The message people are responding to is that Obamacare offers lower-cost and high-quality care that’s now affordable for many people who were not previously eligible for it. However, that message hasn’t gotten across nationwide.

Keene hosts Bloomberg Surveillance 7-10 a.m. ET on 1130 AM in the New York metro area and nationally on SiriusXM 113.

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