Physicians Have Role to Play in Healthcare Reform Education

November 1, 2013

Patient visits are by necessity short on time, but that doesn't mean that practices can't take the lead in answering patient questions about health reform.

It's hard not to focus on the difficulties and strife associated with the less than smooth roll-out of the federal health insurance exchange: Healthcare.gov. However, despite setbacks, physician practices will have to accommodate changes in health insurance plans, welcome new patients, and most certainly answer questions from their existing patients about all aspects of the Affordable Care Act.

According to the 2013 WebMD Affordable Care Act Consumer Survey, a national online survey that polled 2,000 patients ages 18 and up, 87 percent of respondents said they had not asked their physicians about the reform law, and 91 percent said their physician had not started a discussion about the law. Unsurprisingly, nearly 50 percent said they were confused about how the healthcare law would affect themselves and their families.

So, how should practices approach this lack of knowledge? Especially since solid information about the law seems to be released in dribs and drabs, and physician time is at a premium.

Michael W. Smith, chief medical editor at WebMD, thinks that physicians should take the lead in educating patients about the changes they are likely to experience through the Affordable Care Act. He advised, "physicians really need to take an active role in helping, as much as they can, their patients navigate through finding out what they need to know [about health insurance exchanges], to the point of signing up, if that's the right thing for them."

As a physician, Smith said people ask him what he thinks about "Obamacare," all the time. He suggested that while physicians don't have time for a 15-minute conversation about the law, there are ready resources that they can recommend to their patients. "I absolutely think they should bring it up," he said.  "Just own up to the fact that you don't have time to go into the details, but there are a lot of wonderful resources out there, and point them to the resource that they need to get them over the hump, to actually signing up."

While acknowledging the dearth of time and resources, Smith thinks that ultimately spending time to answer patient questions will help both physicians and their patients. He points out that the Affordable Care Act is not just about providing health insurance through the exchanges. Part of the law provides for coverage of 63 preventive services without having to pay a copay, coinsurance, or meeting a deductible.

Here are a few reputable resources that would be good additions to a practice website:

• Physicians Practice: Health Reform topic resource center

Kaiser Family Foundation:  "You Toons Get Ready for Obamacare"

• Kaiser Family Foundation: Health Insurance Subsidy Calculator

• WebMD:  Health Marketplaces in the United States (Map)

• AARP: Your Guide to the Health Care Law

• HHS.gov/Health Care: "Preventive Services Covered Under the ACA"

Enroll America: "Tips for Talking with Your Patients About Their Health Coverage Options"