Questions about health care? Take a number

President Barack Obama is on the verge of doing something former President Bill Clinton failed to do during his eight years in the White House: expand health care access to everyone.

On Oct. 1, Americans can begin signing up for health coverage plans through new insurance marketplaces. The Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as “Obamacare,” will require everyone to carry health insurance or face penalties.

The healthcare issue has grown into one of the most contentious pieces of legislation Congress has dealt with in recent history.

Republicans in the House have voted dozens of times to repeal, delay or eliminate funding for the Supreme Court-approved Affordable Care Act because they believe it’s detrimental to the economy and will result in higher health care costs.

There are some positives to the bill. Mammograms and other screenings wouldn’t cost anything, and children would be able to stay on their parents’ health plan until they turn 26. But to Republicans in D.C., those silver linings aren’t enough to overcome what they otherwise consider a dark cloud.

One of the problems, if you put any stock in a recent nationwide poll, is that Americans simply don’t understand the law. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted earlier this month found just 30 percent of people understand the law and how it will affect them. Sixty-nine percent said they understand the law only some or not very well. For such monumental and universal legislation that carries the potential to become one of Obama’s most signature accomplishments, shouldn’t the administration be doing everything in its power, and then some, to educate the people it says it wants to help – the uninsured?

We hope in the months to come that the Obama administration makes a sincere effort to reach out to all potential consumers to educate them about their options and ease their fears. Likewise, states like Minnesota that have set up their own online health exchange need to continue reaching out to the public to answer any and all questions they might have. Online Q & As and sign-ups can be a handy tool, but what about those who don’t have a computer or the Internet in their home? Will they be kept in the loop or quietly fall through the cracks?

Making matters worse is the apparent security breach that occurred here recently when a MNsure employee accidentally emailed a document that contained private information – Social Security numbers and addresses – on some 1,600 insurance agents.

With less than a week to go before the enrollment period starts, there are a lot of questions and an uncomfortable amount of uncertainty regarding health care reform in this country and this state, and while it’s important people do their own homework and take the initiative to learn about their options, it’s equally vital that advocates of this new world of health care do all they can to help people receive the coverage they will soon, by law, will have no choice but to get.