Nov. 29--HELENA -- Now that the sweeping 2010 federal health reform law is here to stay, its supporters have a new challenge, a top health official said Wednesday: explaining to people, again, what it will do.
"We have a public that is unaware of the major changes that will roll out in the coming months," said Marguerite Salazar, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Salazar, speaking at the 2012 Montana Healthcare Forum Conference in Helena, said she thought after President Barack Obama won the election and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law that the primary job would be implementing the law.
Yet a growing body of research is showing that the people most affected by the law -- lower-income and middle-income Americans without health insurance -- have "no idea" of what the law can do for them, she said.
"The biggest problem today is that we're going to have to work really, really hard to make people understand what we've got," Salazar said.
Salazar heads the HHS region that includes Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Colorado. It's the largest geographical HHS region in the country but has the fewest people, she said.
Starting in 2014, the law requires people without health insurance to buy it and offers subsidies to help some people pay for their insurance.
To get the subsidies, people must buy health insurance on new state-based "exchanges," or Internet marketplaces, which have yet to be created.
Salazar said the exchange will help people figure out their subsidy or if they're eligible for Medicaid or other programs, and that new rules on the many changes will be coming out constantly.
She also said the law and her department have the flexibility to allow states to adapt the changes to their respective circumstances.
"The law builds on our existing health care system," Salazar said. "This is not a wholesale overhaul of our entire system. ... There is enough flexibility built into its so (we) will take things into account and make adjustments. (States) can identify their own path to accomplish their own goals."
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