David wanted to know how the new health care overhaul law would impact retiree health care coverage. Sal asked if Medicare would cover a yearly physical. Tom and Janet get their Medicare coverage from a private health insurance plan. Could they keep their doctor?
The questions went to Department of Health and Human Services officials conducting the second in a series of weekly "Web chats" on the new health care law. The queries are part of an avalanche of questions aimed at government officials, physicians and nonprofit groups as Americans struggle to understand the complexities of the new law.
In one week, more than 30,000 AARP members have visited the group’s "Health Care Reform Explained" column and submitted hundreds of questions. Meanwhile, a new "Health Reform Central," a Web-based tool created by the consumer group Families USA, logged 14,000 visitors in eight days. In the House of Representatives, a health care hotline has been fielding questions from members who need help answering constituents' inquiries; traffic is up as much as 70 percent since the health overhaul bill became law.
Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of Social Impact at AARP, said the seniors lobbying group is planning to spend millions on a multi-year nationwide educational campaign to explain the new law to its members.
"This will be the biggest educational campaign we’ve ever done," said LeaMond. "Our focus will be to get out the facts….Our members have fiction fatigue. There’s been so much out there that just wasn’t accurate and so our goal is to use every channel we possibly can" to explain the new law.
No matter which source they turn to, consumers are asking about every element of the bill. People who don’t have health care coverage want to know how they can enroll in the high-risk pools that are scheduled to be up and running within 90 days. Parents want specifics on how they can keep their adult child on their health insurance plan. Small business owners are asking how they can get the tax credits to help them afford coverage.
Some people are sending questions to healthreform.gov, an HHS site where some answers are posted and others may be discussed during the weekly Web chats.
"If you have questions, we’ll have answers. If you aren’t sure what to believe, we’ll have the facts," HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a recent speech at the National Press Club.
The White House Web site has a feature - headlined "What will health reform mean to you?" - designed to answer frequently-asked questions.
On Capitol Hill, many offices have been flooded with questions about the new health care law; others haven't. The office of Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., has received thousands of calls. But Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., has seen a decline in calls in recent weeks.
"It started with people calling to share their opinion one way or the other," said Ben Marter, a Markey spokesman. "It has sort of tapered off, now that this bill is a law; people want to know what this means for them.” A first-term member of the House, Markey was one of the last House Democrats to back the health overhaul plan and it has become a central issue in her reelection campaign.
Marter said that people want to know how they can get their children back on their health insurance and how health reform will affect TRICARE for military families. Small business owners also want to know how the law will affect their businesses depending on how many employees they have, Marter said.
Andrew Villegas and Maggie Mertens contributed to this report.