The benefits of Obamacare in the simplest terms

While opponents obfuscate, supporters are explaining how consumers will be protected

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In this weekly column, former health insurance executive Wendell Potter offers commentary on matters relating to U.S. health care reform 

Since 2010, the year President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, more than $400 million has been spent by the law’s opponents to turn Americans against it, according to an analysis earlier this summer by the Campaign Media Analysis Group at Kantar Media. That compares to just $75 million spent by supporters to defend and explain the legislation.  

The vast majority of that anti-Obamacare advertising has been misleading and in many cases downright false, but, hey, this is a free country and truth-in-advertising rules don’t apply. People who have an agenda, motivated by political or financial gain, just make stuff up. And then they use TV ads and the Internet to make sure the made-up stuff is repeated often enough so that gullible Americans eventually accept it as truth. Or at the very least grow confused and skeptical.

It is because supporters of the law have been outspent more than 5 to 1, and because opponents in the House of Representatives have voted 40 times to repeal all or part of it, that most of us don’t have a clue how the law will affect us. A sizable percentage of Americans actually believe the law has been repealed.

It hasn’t and, despite all that money to condemn and mislead, some of the most far-reaching provisions of the Affordable Care Act will be going into effect over the coming weeks and months.

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In fact, the way many of us buy health insurance will change forever just three weeks from tomorrow when the health insurance marketplaces, also known as exchanges, go online in every state. Just three months after that, insurers will have to behave in much more consumer-friendly ways.

Among other things, they won’t be able to blackball us because we’ve been sick in the past. And they won’t be able to cancel our policies when we get sick in the future, sell us coverage that provides little more than a fig leaf of protection, charge women more than men or bamboozle us with incomprehensible jargon and fine print. Furthermore, we’ll be able to find coverage that fits our budgets thanks to a  truly competitive insurance marketplace and subsidies that will be available to help most uninsured Americans pay their premiums.

But don’t just take my word for it. Set aside 3 ½ minutes and let 21-year-old Maggie Ditré lay it out for you in a remarkably simple and informative video she did as a favor for her father.

Maggie’s dad is Joe Ditré, executive director of Portland, Maine-based Consumers for Affordable Health Care, a nonprofit advocacy group. Disclaimer: Joe and I are friends. We both have served as consumer representatives to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Joe still performs that role, in addition to his day job at CAHC.

Joe and his staff recently applied for and received a small grant to update the organization’s website and to produce a video to tell Mainers what they need to know about the state’s insurance marketplace and how they can benefit from the new world of health insurance.

CACH solicited bids for the work and quickly realized from the responses they got that web and video design firms wanted far more money than the group’s budget would allow.

When Joe mentioned that to Maggie, a senior majoring in political science and theater studies at Yale, she volunteered to help. It turns out Maggie knows a thing or two about how to communicate with just a few simple tools: a whiteboard, a set of colored pens, a camera and her voice.

CAHC’s consumer assistance program manager Emily Brostek volunteered to write a script for the project and Maggie set aside a few hours to work her magic. The result looks like animation but is really a series of drawings you see Maggie’s fast-moving hand create while you watch.

With no funds for a studio, Maggie mounted a camera on a ceiling beam above her desk and over six hours drew and drew and drew, everything from computers and keyboards to a smiling Maine family. Then she edited it all down to 3 minutes and 26 seconds and recorded Emily’s script.

Among the things you learn is that federal subsidies to help defray the cost of premiums will be available to U.S. families earning up to $94,000 and that 90 percent of the 133,000 uninsured Mainers will qualify for a subsidy.

What was the most challenging thing to draw? The state of Maine, with its long ragged coast. When she was done she wished the Ditré family lived in rectangular Colorado.

As you watch Maggie’s magic YouTube video, be aware that even if you aren’t a resident of the Pine Tree State, everything except the Maine-specific stats apply to your state, too. So pass it around. And tell the consumer groups in your state they should hire Maggie to customize the video for them. They won’t need millions. Maggie’s budget: $250.