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Docs Treat New Condition: Questions About Health Care Law

A physician’s message counts more (November 4)

Dr. Carolyn Senger, a preventive medicine physician, regularly treats uninsured patients, coaching them on how to stay healthy.

Now she is teaching them one more thing — how to sign up for insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). “Not only can I help you with your health, but I can also help you get some coverage,” Senger says to her patients.

Despite the ongoing controversy over the Web site and the rocky rollout of the law, the Obama administration still hopes that millions will sign up for new insurance options before the March 31 deadline. To make that happen, health officials are counting on physicians to shift the conversation from the online problems to the benefits of coverage. They are motivated by a longstanding principle: People trust their doctors.

But like everyone else, physicians have differing opinions on the law, with some enthusiastically promoting it and others ardently opposing it. In fact, both sides of the political debate are using health care providers to get their message out.

Whatever their views, physicians are expected to play a crucial part in patients’ understanding of the PPACA and their willingness to enroll. The federal government is partnering with physician groups, such as the American Medical Association (AMA), to educate doctors about the law.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that doctors and nurses are the most trusted sources for people seeking information about health reform. Nevertheless, patients get more of their information from the news media, family, and friends.

That is partly because physicians’ knowledge about the Medicaid expansion and insurance marketplaces varies widely. Doctors unsure about the details of the law may be more reluctant to talk about them.

To help, physician organizations are putting information on their Web sites and are offering training sessions. The AMA, for example, has prepared a PPACA fact sheet for doctors, a brochure for them to give to patients, and a flier for their waiting rooms.

Howard Kahn, chief executive of L.A. Care Health Plan, said there is nobody better to educate patients than the person holding the stethoscope to their heart. “A doctor’s message counts more,” he said.

Source: Kaiser Health News; November 4, 2013.

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