Monday, September 23, 2013

Making Obamacare a little better: special for Californians


Like anyone who ever participated in internet activism, my email inbox is jammed with petitions and letters that someone wants me to sign for some worthy cause. Perhaps foolishly, I sign lots of these. I suspect most politicians' offices have become pretty much immune to form letters and petitions. But I'll sign if I want to be kept aware of a developing issue or controversy. I can count on hearing more about it as organizations harvest my email address.

Periodically I unsubscribe from most appeals, listing my reason as "annual email purge." If I'm interested, I know they'll turn up again.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation, worthy advocates who have been patiently pushing boulders uphill for many years, pass on some insights into how Congressional offices deal with email. Highlights:

Sorting through this mass of communications can be difficult. “We hope to spend about as much time answering your communication as you spend sending it to us,” one congressional staffer explained to FCNL recently.

… Individualized letters, emails, and faxes received a lot of attention. Form letters that look like the individual simply clicked “send” on a pre-written letter receive less attention. But the congressional survey found that 63 percent of congressional offices said that even a form email—that is one that is not edited at all to insert individual content—has “some influence” on their member of Congress.

What I never do with mass email appeals is use organization's forms to pass these items along to my friends via Facebook or Twitter. My friends can figure out for themselves what they want to get roped into. I'm sure the same outfits that find me find most of them.

All this is prelude to breaking with my custom by passing on a petition that I hope a few more people will sign. A good friend, some of whose writings I've highlighted here, is serving as the poster girl for an effort to get California Governor Jerry Brown to sign one of those state-level tweaks that can make sure that Obamacare is really a good development.

Over the years, advocates have won strong protections for the privacy of patients' sensitive health information. Federal law says medical providers have to ensure that this information only goes to the patient, even if the patient requests it be sent to an different address or other special requirement.

But one of the best provisions of Obamacare ( the ACA) could undermine this privacy protection, especially for young people. The ACA will work by getting more of us insured and thus broadening the risk pool, spreading the costs of medical care more widely. Getting more young people insured helps everyone as, by and large, the young use less care. The Affordable Care Act therefore enables young adults to be covered under their parents' health insurance until they are reach age twenty-six.

But if you are a young person insured under your parents' insurance, the statements they see are likely to show what tests, procedures, and appointments you've had. And you might have wanted to keep this information to yourself, so you might feel you couldn't use your insurance. My friend Renee tells her story of needing privacy in these trying circumstances.

In California, the legislature has passed a fix that would require insurers to be mindful of patients' confidentiality. SB 138 is waiting for Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. Jerry is an odd duck; sometimes he needs a lot of reminding to do the right thing.

Californians can help by signing this one!

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