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Americans don't understand health reform? No kidding!

Calling all pharmacists: If ever there was a need for pharmacy-based patient education, that time is now. Patients will need your help to unravel the complex set of regulations spawned by health reform.

A new survey from CVS Caremark shows widespread and continuing confusion about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the changes it will bring to the U.S. healthcare system and to their own lives. To wit: Nearly 8-in-10 consumers who would qualify for new health coverage under the law have never heard of the state-based healthcare exchanges where they’ll shop for coverage beginning in 2014. And 60% of those surveyed said they’d need help from doctors, pharmacists and other health professionals to navigate the post-reform health system. [For the full story, click here.]

The breakdown in understanding should surprise no one. One of the great shortcomings of the Obama administration has been its glaring failure to adequately champion — let alone explain — its controversial effort to overhaul the dysfunctional U.S. healthcare system. Ditto for its failure to clearly explain why this dizzyingly complex and still-emerging piece of legislation was important to most Americans, or would benefit their interests.

To my mind, the campaign to tackle the unsustainable rise in healthcare costs, the lack of integration in healthcare and the lack of health coverage for tens of millions of Americans was a worthy and even courageous goal, and one for which the Obama administration expended enormous political capital. But too often, the President ceded the effort to really sell Americans on the idea of health reform and its potential benefits to his Democratic allies in Congress and other reform advocates in and out of his administration.

Into that bully-pulpit vacuum rushed a noisy, well-organized and well-financed army of health-reform opponents, ranging from moderate congressional Republicans with legitimate concerns about coverage mandates for the uninsured and for employers, to Tea Party newcomers with only a vague understanding of the reform law’s actual provisions.

Lost in the debate were the unsustainable financial and societal pressures driving the need for change.

Result: The Obama health-reform law was largely defined and often mischaracterized by its fiercest opponents. [Remember death panels for seniors?] And it now faces a serious Supreme Court challenge.

Add to that the bill’s complex list of new regulations governing coverage options, out-of-pocket costs, eligibility, employer responsibilities and other issues, and it’s no wonder Americans are confused and need help understanding the law.

What do you think? Was the Patient Protection Act an ill conceived and overreaching intrusion into the private health system, or a critically needed if poorly explained partial fix for a health system in crisis? And, if you’re a pharmacist, do you feel adequately informed yourself to be able to counsel your patients about what reform will mean to them?

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