National

Health overhaul's changes confuse

WASHINGTON — Two weeks after President Obama signed the big health care overhaul into law, Americans are struggling to understand how — and when — the sweeping measure will affect them.

Questions reflecting confusion have flooded insurance companies, doctors' offices, human resources departments and business groups.

"They're saying, 'Where do we get the free Obama care, and how do I sign up for that?' " said Carrie McLean, a licensed agent for eHealthInsurance.com. The California-based company sells coverage from 185 health insurance carriers in 50 states.

McLean said the call center had been inundated by uninsured consumers who were hoping that the overhaul would translate into instant, affordable coverage. That widespread misconception may have originated in part from distorted rhetoric about the legislation bubbling up from the hyper-partisan debate about it in Washington and some media outlets, such as when opponents denounced it as socialism.

"We tell them it's not free, that there are going to be things in place that help people who are low-income, but that ultimately most of that is not going to be taking place until 2014," McLean said.

Adults with pre-existing conditions are frustrated to learn that insurers won't have to cover them until 2014 (though those under 18 will be protected in late September); then they become both hopeful and confused upon learning that a federal high-risk pool for them will be established in the next few months. "Health insurance is so confusing. You add this on top of it and it makes it even more confusing," McLean said.

The Obama administration is embarking on a years-long public education campaign about the overhaul, including a Web component. However, much of the guidance will depend on Department of Health and Human Services regulations that are still being developed.

Parents of young adults, including those who are preparing to graduate from college this spring, have heard that the overhaul will let them keep their children on their insurance plans until they reach age 26. That starts in September, however; they have to determine how to cover them until then.

Many organizations have produced timelines explaining when provisions are to be phased in. Still, it's confusing for consumers, and until the administration issues more regulations, many details can't be pinned down.

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