Back in March 2010 when the Obama administration managed, against great odds, to secure the passage of its signature piece of legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, there was a sense that 2014 was lifetime away.
On Wednesday, however, a reminder of how close this massive restructuring of the healthcare system actually is came when the US’s largest drugstore chain Walgreen Co. (WAG) and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the largest federation of health insurers in the country, announced a campaign to promote the health insurance exchanges that comprise one of the key features of the law.
As states, some of them at least, have begun the process of setting up the health insurance exchanges that are supposed to ensure fair and competitive pricing, as well as a common set of rules about the provision of basic care, the Obama Whitehouse last week surprised many by delaying the employer mandate that would require businesses with 50 or more employees to provide care for their workers.
The one-year delay was due in part to long-held fears of many small businesses that the mandate would be prohibitively expensive, making the cost of business just not worth it. A number of reports surfaced pertaining to how businesses had frozen hiring out of fear of hitting the 50-employee threshold before January 2014.
The campaign, consisting of an informational website as well as the distribution of pamphlets at Walgreen’s over 8,000 locations throughout the country, is aimed at encouraging the public to shop for their health plans on the exchanges. Given last week’s delay to the employer mandate, it could not have come at a better time for the administration, as the ACA’s tireless opponents felt as though the move indicated weakness and hesitation.
It is also welcome news after the National Football League two weeks ago backed out of an alleged plan to help promote the law. News of talks between the NFL and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stirred the ire of Republican lawmakers, causing the NFL to back off.
The government has estimated that it will spend $212 million to promote the law, via websites, grants to pay for clinics to hire people who can help sign up patients, and an overall publicity campaign ahead of Jan 1.
Like Blue Cross, Walgreen’s has an obvious interest in seeing the ACA work. Investors seem to agree, because the company’s stock had jumped over 2.3 percent heading into Wednesday afternoon, to $47.50.
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