Ron Pollack and Celinda Lake: carnival hawkers for big insurance
Next Challenge for the Health Law: Getting the Public to Buy In
By Abby Goodnough
The New York Times, December 19, 2012
On its face, the low-key discussion around a conference table in Miami last month did not appear to have national implications. Eight men and women, including a diner owner, a chef and a real estate agent, answered questions about why they had no health insurance and what might persuade them to buy it.
But this focus group, along with nine others held around the country in November, was an important tool for advocates coming up with a campaign to educate Americans about the new health care law.
The sessions confirmed a daunting reality: Many of those the law is supposed to help have no idea what it could do for them.
There lies the challenge for Enroll America, a nonprofit group formed last year to get the word out to the uninsured and encourage them get coverage, providing help along the way. With the election over and the law almost certain to survive, the group is honing its fund-raising and testing strategies for persuading people to sign up for health insurance — a process that will begin in less than a year.
The group has raised only about $6 million so far — but financial backers include some major players in the medical industry: insurers like Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield, associations representing both brand name and generic drug manufacturers, hospitals and the Catholic Health Association.
Over the next two years, the group hopes to raise as much as $100 million for advertising, social media and other outreach efforts. “There are so many different groups that can play some role in this: hospitals, community health centers, pharmacies, tax preparers,” said Ron Pollack, chairman of Enroll America’s board. “Our job has got to be to try to galvanize each of those sectors, so there is a wide variety of ways people potentially can hear about this.”
In addition to holding focus groups in Miami, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Columbus, Ohio, Enroll America commissioned a nationwide survey to help hone its message. The survey, conducted in September and October by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling group, found that the vast majority of uninsured people are unaware of the new coverage options provided by the law.
They are also skeptical. Many who participated in the focus groups or survey reported bad experiences trying to get health insurance, and doubted that the law would provide coverage that was both affordable and comprehensive.
“It’s two major mountains that need to be climbed,” Mr. Pollack said. “People are unaware of the benefits that could be provided to them, and they have to overcome skepticism, based on their past experiences with trying to obtain insurance.”
But the survey found that even with federal subsidies, many uninsured people may balk at the cost of coverage. Only about a third of respondents leaned toward thinking monthly premiums of $210 for a single person earning $30,000 a year, for example, were affordable.
Those amounts became more acceptable when respondents were told it would “protect you from thousands of dollars of medical debt if you got sick” or “cover all of the basic care you need.”
In the end, Lake Research Partners recommended that Enroll America not cite specific dollar amounts at all when they talk to the uninsured about new coverage options. “Talking about ‘free or low cost’ plans may be more motivating,” the survey authors wrote in a report.
By Don McCanne, MD
From the days of the Clinton effort to reform health care, Ron Pollack of Families USA has opposed single payer reform as not being politically feasible, supporting instead reform based on private insurance plans. Likewise, Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners has actively rejected single payer while using her polling and focus group activities to push the rhetoric of "Choice" to promote private insurers, glossing over the fact that private insurers take away choice of health care professionals and institutions. Both Pollack and Lake have had considerable influence in Democratic administrations.
Now that they got their wish and we have reform based on private insurance plans, they have a new hurdle and that is to try to sell the program to the public. They have formed a new organization, "Enroll America," to do just that, and the private insurance industry is front and center in financing the organization.
Just as they concocted the "Choice" campaign to sell the legislation, they are now concocting the "Free or Low Cost" campaign to sell the uninsured on the new coverage options. When the survey found that many people may balk at the cost of coverage even with the subsidies, Lake recommended that Enroll America not cite specific dollar amounts at all when they talk to the uninsured about new coverage options.
Can you imagine? Just as they sold the nation on legislation using "Choice" for a program that takes away choice, they now are selling the nation on "Free or Low Cost" plans that the uninsured cannot afford to pay for. What chutzpah!
Where is the Occupy movement? Maybe we should occupy Enroll America and use it instead to enroll everyone in a single payer national health program - an Improved Medicare for All.