Healthcare reform roundup

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Healthcare reform's success or failure will take a long time to measure, even longer depending on when government tabulators are able to get back to work and dig into data about the new wave of healthcare coverage that goes into effect January 1, but what can be immediately assessed is how language is influencing perception.

Case in point: Bloomberg assessed the sentiment associated with the terms "Affordable Care Act" and "Obamacare" and found that the Affordable Care Act was viewed more favorably than Obamacare. Both terms refer to the same exact legislation, yet anti-healthcare reformers decided to use the term Obamacare as a negative label (South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has said he's working on rebranding it Clintoncare to add drag to a possible 2016 presidential run).

Regardless of label, healthcare reform's latest phase—healthcare exchanges—opened yesterday to begin taking on members who can choose from varying levels of coverage. There have been some rough patches, which is not unexpected. There were reports that some exchanges were struggling long before Tuesday's kickoff, but Politico's health editor Joanne Kenen wrote at the Association of Health Care Journalists' Covering Health blog that what's being lost in daily micro discussions about implementation is that the story is still developing and readers should be wary about blinders, writing, “We will probably hear about people having problems getting on the exchange websites or call centers—we won't necessarily hear as much about people who don't encounter problems.” Kenen also notes that this is just the sign-up stage, and we've got three months until coverage actually begins, a period which she says amounts to “three more months to focus on problems without being able to point to benefits. That lag will be politically challenging for supporters of the law.”

Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius is of a similar mind, saying that exchanges should be given the same leeway fans give Apple products. As reported by UPI, the HHS secretary cited her experience with upgrading her iPad and iPhone to ios7 only to get a note about a “new new upgrade.

“We're building a complicated piece of technology and hopefully you'll give us the same slack you give Apple,” she said.

Even without potential glitches, the rollout had baked-in struggles, including the most basic: some of the uninsured patients had never had insurance and do not understand how coverage works. While this may not be surprising, studies have also shown that understanding patient behavior is critical to drive change.

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