More than $500 million has been spent on advertising for and against health reform since 2009, with groups opposing Obamacare outspending supporters by almost 5 to 1, Bloomberg News’ Stephanie Armour reported this week. Opponents regularly cast small employers as victims of the law, and the competing messages have caused plenty of confusion. That’s prompting the Obama administration and some state governments to fight back with their own marketing efforts ahead of the Oct. 1 date when people will be able to shop for insurance on new state and federal marketplaces.
Announced Thursday, the administration’s latest push for employers and the self-employed is a new site on BusinessUSA.gov that aggregates the basics on the complex law from the Small Business Administration, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury Department. Outgoing SBA chief Karen Mills said in a press release that the site “will prove to be an invaluable resource for small employers.” Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker was more expansive, calling it a “tremendous resource for self-employed Americans and businesses of all sizes.”
A few quick spins on the site showed the cheerleading is overselling it a bit. Users punch their state and the number of people they employ into a “wizard tool” to get basics on timelines, coverage options, and tax credits. That part is smooth. But clicking on the topics the wizard spits out is clunkier, sending users to other government sites, mostly HealthCare.gov, where some of the information that the wizard already offered is repeated.
A test of the wizard as the hypothetical owner of a New York business with more than 50 employees not planning to offer insurance yielded seven topics about the changes in question-and-answer form. Example result: “Do I have to offer coverage to my employees? No employer has to offer health coverage. Some larger businesses that don’t offer coverage may have to make an Employer Shared Responsibility payment.”
Another test as a New York business with fewer than 25 employees that offers insurance and wants to explore new coverage options yielded 13 topics. Finding the page that made it clear that New York, like 16 other states and the District of Columbia, is setting up its own marketplace, instead of deferring the responsibility to the federal government, took a bunch of clicks.