Why Are You Afraid?

This is a blog.  You, Dear Readers, are viewing this online either on the blog’s home site or on the AOL Patch System.  You are comfortable online and this is probably only one of several blogs that you read on a regular basis.  We know how to research issues.  We know how to find the information we need to help us form our opinions or to confirm our long held beliefs.

Our comfort with the internet allows us to laugh at the television reports that paint an issue in strictly solid black or solid white.  We can, if we wish, quickly go online and find the shades of gray.

But what if you don’t have internet access?  What if you not only don’t have a computer, but you really don’t know how to use one?  Then you are at the mercy of your news sources – TV, the newspaper, the radio, and your friends.  And many of your news sources like to keep you nervous.  Scared to death.  Many, but not all.

Monica Robbins is the Senior Health Correspondent at WKYC, Channel 3.  Ms. Robbins has been covering health issues in the Greater Cleveland market for over ten years.  She and her station have worked diligently to demystify the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) from its inception.  The WKYC website and her on air reports have attempted to answer viewers’ questions in a straight-forward, non-political fashion.

In an effort to build on a mission of providing information instead of fear, Monica Robbins invited the local chapter of the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) to spend three hours last night fielding viewers’ questions.  Channel 3 set up a phone bank, brought in snacks and sandwiches, and promoted our availability online, during Dr. Phil, and on the evening news broadcast.

We received nearly 300 phone calls!

There was a common thread that ran through the vast majority of the calls that I received, FEAR.  The people who called were afraid of “Obamacare”.   How was the new law going to affect them?  Would they lose their coverage?  Will they be able to afford their new policies?

A third of my calls were from people on Medicare.  Aside from the improvements in the Medicare Part D (Rx) benefits, Medicare is pretty much untouched by the PPACA.  But my 11th caller was a nervous 68 year old.  His buddy told him that the premium for his Medicare Supplement was going to be four times higher next year due to Obamacare.  Some friend.  There was the 66 year old who was concerned about her vitamin D prescription.  And there was the woman in her mid-fifties, still recovering from the surgeries to remove brain tumors, who had been told that the new policies would not cover liver transplants for anyone over 60.  There is nothing in the law that prohibits liver transplants for 61 year olds, and she doesn’t need a transplant, but she has heard the reports and she is worried.

There wasn’t a single call, not one, from someone who will be hurt by the new law.  My fifth call was a grandmother inquiring about coverage for her 22 year old granddaughter.  The young woman is an uninsured college student.  I had several calls from people who had lost their jobs, could not afford to exercise their COBRA option, and were now uninsured.  Most had dependent children.  The PPACA doesn’t benefit everyone.  What law could?  But the concern and fear fueling these calls was a direct result of negative, often fact-less, political messaging. 

Two of my calls came from people who were paying a lot of money for their or their spouse’s employer sponsored group health insurance plans.  I couldn’t promise that the new health plans would be cheaper.  I could reassure them that they will have choices and the opportunity to shop for alternate coverage.

Many of our callers just needed a safe website that could answer their questions.  This one, created by the Ohio Association of Health Underwriters, even has a subsidy calculator.  I patiently repeated the actual web address for them as they wrote it down before heading to the public library to access the internet.

We were supposed to start at 5 PM, but the phones started to ring before that.  After an hour I turned to Ms. Robbins and Ingrid Martin, our Board Member who had helped to organize this, and asked when we were going to do this again.  They had already agreed to the need.  They appreciated our mutual commitment to helping Greater Clevelanders in making this transition.  I’m sure we will be back again in a few weeks.

I, of course, am looking forward to doing this again.  A veteran of numerous charity telethons, I love answering the phone on TV.  That and we were too busy to meet Russ Mitchell when he came down to say hello.  He and I share a real appreciation of Gino Vannelli.

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