HELENA — Sen. Max Baucus, a key architect of the Affordable Care Act, said Thursday that his “train wreck” comment about the health-care law’s implementation was not a condemnation of the law.
Baucus, who made the comment at a Wednesday meeting of the Senate Finance Committee in Washington, D.C., said he was merely saying that many people are confused about the law, and that the Obama administration must do a better job informing people about its benefits.
“This is a good law, but it can’t work if people don’t understand it,” he said in a press release Wednesday after the Finance Committee meeting. “The administration must use every day between now and Oct. 1 to have insurance marketplaces up and running.”
At the meeting, Baucus was addressing U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and said he’s concerned about the public’s lack of understanding of key elements of the law that take effect in October and January.
He said he sees “a huge train wreck coming down” if the public is unaware of the law’s benefits and requirements.
Starting Oct. 1, people without health insurance can sign up to buy policies via an Internet marketplace — and get federal subsidies to help with the purchase, if they’re eligible. All U.S. citizens are supposed to have insurance by 2014 or face a potential tax penalty.
Baucus said he traveled Montana extensively this month and met with many business owners and people who had questions about how the law works.
Mike Fierberg, a spokesman in Denver for HHS’ Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Thursday his office is planning outreach activities in Montana and other states, and that $600,000 will be available to hire and train “navigators” in Montana to help explain the law.
Groups will apply to the agency for grants to train navigators, which will travel the state and help people understand how to sign up for health insurance on a new state Internet marketplace, he said.
“We have a lot of people who are going to be eligible, and most don’t know they are eligible, and many of them have no experience with health insurance whatsoever,” Fierberg said. “Education and outreach is going to be very, very important.”
The federal government is building Montana’s Internet health-insurance marketplace, which is supposed to be launched Oct. 1.
“We believe we’re going to be on time, on schedule and that everything will be up and running when it’s supposed to be,” Fierberg said.
State Auditor Monica Lindeen, whose office regulates insurance, also said Thursday her office will do what it can to help health insurers, brokers, insurance agents and consumers — but that her office hasn’t been given any additional resources for that purpose.
Lindeen said she had pushed for the state to build its own insurance Internet marketplace, but the 2011 Legislature rejected that request.
Some Republicans at the Montana Legislature also seized on Baucus’s “train wreck” comments Wednesday and Thursday, as they reiterated their opposition to accepting federal Medicaid money to expand coverage for low-income Montanans.
House Speaker Mark Blasdel, R-Somers, said the comments echo Republicans’ concerns that elements of the federal health-care law won’t work and should be resisted.
But a spokeswoman for Baucus said Thursday he was neither expressing doubts about the law nor suggesting any problems with Medicaid expansion.