Obama Team Hopes Thanksgiving Table Talk Turns To Health Care

Ari Shapiro talks to Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, about Affordable Care Act talk at the Thanksgiving table. How will parents make their case? And will more people sign up over the long weekend?

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro and today is Thanksgiving, when many families have been gathering for a big feast. Now, if your family dinner conversation tends toward the political, health insurance will probably come up at the table today. And despite what you might expect, the White House actually wants these conversations to happen.

Yes, the rollout of HealthCare.gov was a disaster but by Saturday, the Obama administration says the website should be working smoothly; and now people have just about three more weeks to sign up, if they want coverage to start in January. So the law's supporters hope lots of people enroll in the next few weeks. and they think that can only happen if people encourage family and friends to sign up.

Joining us to talk about this enrollment push is Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Welcome to the program.

KAREN POLLITZ: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Give us a summary of what the White House wants these conversations to sound like.

POLLITZ: Well, I'm pretty sure they want people to talk about why it's important to have health insurance, and why it's important to sign up.

SHAPIRO: Is this parents convincing their kids?

POLLITZ: To a large extent, yeah. Young adults are about 40 percent of the uninsured today. They want coverage. Our polling shows that, and their moms and dads want them to have coverage, too.

SHAPIRO: If young adults, according to your polling, are enthusiastic about signing up and want to enroll, then why do these family conversations even need to happen?

POLLITZ: Well, people may not realize the options that are available to them. They may not realize that insurance that up until now has been unaffordable, may be possible to afford. They just need to understand what their new options are, and how to take advantage of them.

SHAPIRO: Poll numbers show that the health law is not very popular, all the more so since the rollout went so badly. Isn't there a chance that as families sit down to talk about this at the Thanksgiving table, what they're saying is going to be what a debacle this has been? Why would the White House want people to have that conversation?

POLLITZ: Well, there's no question that the rollout has been a mess so far and that a lot of people are disillusioned; and it will be very unfortunate, indeed, if as a result of that, people don't try again. I have talked to navigators in states who are working with the state exchanges and the federal exchange, to try to help people understand their options and sign up. And they've told me it is much better. It doesn't take as much time. It's still a little bulky but, you know, the site works. You can get on. You can put your information in, sign up for a plan. You know, hopefully, that will continue to be the case.

SHAPIRO: Karen Pollitz, you have worked for a couple of decades on health care reform and if young healthy people don't sign up for this program, isn't there a risk of this entire structure collapsing?

POLLITZ: The structure is certainly premised on spreading risk; and covering a mix of young and old, healthy and sick. There is no question. I think it's unlikely that young people would stay away in droves, having said that. Our polling shows, other research shows, they understand health insurance matters. They want it. They're going to try to get it.

And I think it's also important not to think about young people as just sort of, you know, the filler that you put under the table leg so it won't wobble. The main reason that it's important for them to get covered is, they're the ones who are the most uninsured. So they are the most at risk of not having care when they need it, of facing medical bills that will ruin them financially - and their credit rating - for years into the future. I think if they have the opportunity, they'll probably sign up.

SHAPIRO: Karen Pollitz is senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Happy Thanksgiving. Thanks for joining us.

POLLITZ: Happy Thanksgiving to you.

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