I finally made it! Next stop, Oval Office! Ok, seriously. . .

The White House held a “Briefing on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for Consumer Health Leaders” in early October and I was lucky enough to be one of the advocates to make the trip.  I felt a bit like my daughter at Harry Potter World . . . even though, technically, the briefing was in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjoining the White House, not the White House itself.  Still it was a great experience to be in a place where so many important decisions are made.

The briefing was an opportunity for health care consumer advocates to hear – and ask questions – about Health and Human Services’ (HHS) efforts to implement the ACA as well as share ideas on consumer engagement and outreach.  Before the briefing, HHS shared a list of its questions:

• What challenges have you and/or your organization had in educating about the new law, the Affordable Care Act?
• What strategies have you and/or your organization used to overcome those challenges?
• How can we best partner together to improve education and outreach to consumers about the new law?
• What have been some of the most impactful and helpful sources of information about the ACA that are tailored for consumers?

Cecelia Munoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of HHS, gave introductory remarks.  Michael Hash, Director of the Office of Health Reform at HHS, Gary Cohen, Director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, Julie Bataille, Director of the Office of Communications at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS regional directors, and Anton Gunn, HHS Director of External Affairs, engaged in more substantive discussions and Q & A with the attendees.

In fact, the consumer advocates in the room had so many questions that there wasn’t time to answer them all.  Topics ranged from questions about the basic health option, the role of assisters v. navigators v. brokers in state exchanges, and how state-partnership and federally facilitated exchanges will work.  For those of us in Colorado, who are working to create our own exchange, we want to know when HHS will provide clarification and approval of our essential health benefits benchmark plan.

I appreciated HHS’ genuine interest in hearing from consumer advocates, not only about their questions, but also about their ideas for engaging consumers and the tools consumers need to make the insurance shopping process easier.  Like many of my advocate colleagues, we am still waiting for answers on many questions and we hope they come soon, so CCHI can help all Coloradans get the health care they need, when they need it.

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