Archive for Friday, September 27, 2013

Lawrence man travels state informing Kansans about Affordable Care Act

Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, gives a presentation to the Kansas Homecare Association earlier this month at the Lawrence Holidome.

Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, gives a presentation to the Kansas Homecare Association earlier this month at the Lawrence Holidome.

September 27, 2013


Sheldon Weisgrau is here to tell you the truth about health care reform.

Much of the news about the Affordable Care Act has been filtered through politics, he says, so what often makes it to the public is either distorted, dishonest or flat-out wrong. The Lawrence health consultant is on a mission to change that.

For the past two-and-a-half years, Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project — which is funded by six Kansas health foundations— has been traveling the state, informing Kansans about the intricacies of the 2010 health care law. But lately, with major pieces of the act being implemented soon, he's been busy.

During the course of what he calls the "ACA Road Trip," Weisgrau has talked to hundreds of chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs and health care organizations to help people better understand one of the largest pieces of health care legislation to be instituted in decades.

That hasn't always been easy, not when the subject matter is also one of the most controversial laws in decades. People have stormed out of meetings, screamed at him, called him a liar. "I've been doing health policy for 30 years and I've never seen us as angry at each other as we are about this law," he says.

Along the way, Weisgrau has been asked all kinds of Obamacare-related questions, many of them based in an alternate reality. Several seniors — including his own mother, in Florida — have asked him if the law really kicks them out of the health care system when they reach age 70. No, he tells them. Also, he adds, it does not contain "death panels," provide benefits to people in the country illegally or turn over the health care system to either the government or for-profit insurance companies.

"The education that's gone on, for the most part, has been fear-based. I try to cut through that," says Weisgrau, 53, who is married with two children. "My main goal in these talks is to lower the heat a little bit, to make people understand that the vast majority of people won't be directly affected by this, and for the people who will be, the vast majority of them will be affected positively."

An upbringing far from Kansas

If you listen to Weisgrau talk for a few minutes, you'll quickly realize he's not from Kansas. A Queens native, he hasn't lost the New York accent or even the attitude.

Weisgrau grew up the son of a nurse and brother of a physician. In college, he became interested in public health and so, for his graduate school work, attended the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore. After graduating, he worked for the state health department and then at the Health Care Financing Administration (now the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services).

"I've always considered myself to be a champion of the underdog," he says. "People with means and money will never have problems in getting their needs met. The more interesting work for me is how do we expand all those great things we have in our health care system to everybody who may need it."

While working for the federal government, Weisgrau got involved in rural health. It was in that field that he met Steve McDowell, of Lawrence, who asked if he wanted to partner with him on a rural health consulting firm in Kansas. Weisgrau, a city boy through and through, thought McDowell was joking. He wasn't. Weisgrau visited Lawrence, liked what he saw and decided to make it his home.

He worked for nearly a decade consulting rural communities and states across the nation on how to design systems that preserved their access to health care. He later did research for the Kansas Health Institute and advised Lawrence call center Vangent after it got the contract to operate 1-800-MEDICARE (Weisgrau notes that the Affordable Care Act hotline, which Vangent will also run, will not be 1-800-OBAMACARE).

A few years ago, six Kansas health foundations came together and decided they needed a way to inform Kansans directly about the new health care law. They needed a public face to spearhead that effort, to people in the state not only about the broad aims of the Affordable Care Act but the minutiae as well. They needed a health-policy guru. They called Weisgrau.

"He really understands what the health care law is all about and he's worked in some of those systems, so he's very knowledgeable about how it affects not only consumers but providers and other nonprofit organizations," said Billie Hall, CEO of the Topeka-based Sunflower Foundation, one of the six Kansas health foundations that make up the Kansas Grantmakers in Health consortium. Hall said that while the role wasn't designed specifically for Weisgrau it might as well have been. "There aren't many people out there who can bring all of those things to the table."

Walking health-policy dictionary

Weisgrau is blessed with the unique ability to break down wonky policy details into succinct sound bites without losing the complexity. For example, he says the Affordable Care Act will give more people private insurance and more people public insurance; the basic way America pays for its health care will not change.

"He's like a Yoda of health care in a lot of ways," said Jon Stewart, CEO of Lawrence's Heartland Community Health Center. "He's been doing this his whole life, so he's very articulate."

"He does a great job of trying to bring these issues down to a very basic level where folks can understand it," added Linda Sheppard, director of health care policy and analysis at the Kansas Insurance Department, who has served on several panels with Weisgrau and, like him, is one of the few people in Kansas to have read the entire 960-page Affordable Care Act. "I would definitely consider him to be one of the most informed people about the law in our state."

Weisgrau has an agreement to head the Health Reform Resource Project through 2015. Beyond that, he isn't sure what he'll be doing but knows his services will be needed somewhere.

"If in some magical fantasy world, the Affordable Care Act was implemented perfectly and worked as expected, we're still going to have health policy problems we're going to have to deal with," he said, later adding: "Health care is never going to be like buying a toaster. We're never going to understand it as well as our providers do. We're always going to have to rely on getting good advice from people we trust."


overthemoon 4 years, 9 months ago

When people are belligerently ignorant and want to believe lies, telling the truth is a tough job. Keep it up Mr. Weisgrau!! The extraordinary amount of money behind the fear mongering is the 'man behind the curtain' we should be exposing.

James Minor 4 years, 9 months ago

Anyone that knows or vaguely understands politics should know that any legislation is difficult to implement. We all know that politicians are not going to get it right the first time because it involves the masses and you can't please everyone. Americans don't like the current health care system, it is too expensive and inaccurate at times. Prescription drugs are too expensive and overly prescribed to patients. So, what is being done to reduce some of the problems in health care - The Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately there are some gaps, but remember it is driven by politicians. Is the concept of affordable health care a good one - I think so. But, it will take time to understand, work out the bugs, and hope the necessary changes are not tied up in silly debates and legislation.

james bush 4 years, 9 months ago

Sounds like propaganda that's bought and paid for by a federal grant paying for it?

love2fish_ks 4 years, 9 months ago

Lies and Facts: Lie: healthcare cost will go down Fact: going up, nothing was introduced to reduce cost other than rationing

Lie: you can keep your insurance Fact: only if it is an corporate plan

Lie: you can keep your doctor Fact: only if the doctor participates in the new plan

Lie: universal coverage for all Fact: 30M still uninsured

Lie: Fair for all - even playing field Fact: providers to the poor and rural areas are getting hurt. Meanwhile congress has exempted itself along with the politically connected from having to participate

ksjayhawk74 4 years, 9 months ago

Fishy, everything you state is wrong.

You can keep the insurance you have. If you employer chooses a different plan, then you will have a different plan.

You can keep your doctor. If you are switched to a different insurance company, you might have different doctors.

The insurance marketplace starts on Oct 1st, that is why there are uninsured people right now.

Congress is not exempt from the ACA, they still have to have insurance.

madman 4 years, 9 months ago

You are not exactly right. You can keep your insurance through it's renewal (individual) at that time you will have to go one of ACA plans which will be different. I know because I have many hours of training on this and I am working with people that know they are losing their current plans.

It could be possible that you will not have your same doctor. I don't think this is a big risk.

The marketplace starts on Oct 1 for ENROLLMENT. The plans start January 1st.

BlackVelvet 4 years, 9 months ago

Anyone with half a bit of common sense would wonder, if ACA is so wonderful, why in hell is congress exempting themselves from it?

riverdrifter 4 years, 9 months ago

Because they have Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal, the best plan that's out there. Tea partiers who rail against ACA and have BC/BS Federal are the very definition of hypocrites.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 9 months ago

It takes a lot of moxie to try to educate the great unwashed in Kansas. Just look at the morons that we elect to the state government.

This fellow has my best wishes and support to overcome the political rubbish and racism that infects this issue.

Richard Payton 4 years, 9 months ago

Weisgram said, the basic way America pays for its health care will not change. Really, then why the penalties and fines for not having insurance? Fines for not telling employees about the marketplace exchange can be $100.00 a day per employee. Employers are to inform their employees about this change. Size of company doesn't matter and companies that don't offer insurance still have to abide by that part of the law. Kansas Insurance Commissioner, Sandy Praeger told me that wouldn't be enforced. Then that is an example of not following the law. I guess the government can pick and choose winner's and loser's.

tomatogrower 4 years, 9 months ago

But he read it on the internet, so it must be true.

FlintlockRifle 4 years, 9 months ago

Like L2F,stated the ones who dreamed this up are exempt, why??Yes we all know the answer, not going to be part of this better deal, huh.

ksjayhawk74 4 years, 9 months ago

Congress in NOT exempt, they still have to have health insurance. Of course they already have health insurance that is paid for by tax dollars.

tomatogrower 4 years, 9 months ago

FlintlockRifle, question? Do you already have health insurance?

verity 4 years, 9 months ago

I know nothing will convince those who are determined that the ACA is completely bad and everything Obama is completely bad, but this is a link to the Tampa Bay Times

Interesting article for those who actually want to search out the truth rather than maintain their ideology at any cost.

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

Thanks - always good to have useful information.

It's interesting that 14 out of the 15 are from opponents, and 1 from proponents.

That mirrors what I've seen on here over the years - right leaning folks seem much more prone to incorrect misleading statements, but left leaning ones aren't immune either.

verity 4 years, 9 months ago

This site actually appears to be neutral and non-partisan, which is why I posted it.

Wesley Willis 4 years, 9 months ago

When I first saw the picture I thought it was Nicolas Cage

patkindle 4 years, 9 months ago

I think most of us understand the media cannot make any money reporting good news, it has to be bad and controversial to sell. Now we have an unbiased report on obamacare, and now we can all rest Peacefully knowing everything will be ok, and our medical services will be even better, many thanks to Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, we appreciate the real truth

fuel_for_the_fire 4 years, 9 months ago

16 myths about healthcare. law....Wait, what!!!

Congress is NOT exempt for Obamacare!!!!! But.....but......but....Lynn Jenkins told me personally that congress was exempt, well, okay not personally, but she did say it in one of those conference calls that I am routinely invited to participate in. And Lynn Jenkins wouldn't lie! Well, she didn't bother to correct a woman who thought that Obamacare would mean she was only going to be eligible for palliative care. But that's not lying. Lynn Jenkins is grrreat!!!

There was that time she said she was proud to be from the "party of NO". But doesn't mean she is an obstructionist.

There was also that time when she said they were looking for the next great white hope. But that doesn't mean she is either woefully ignorant about that particular historical reference or just plain racist. Lynn Jenkins is grrreat!!!

Of course, there is that voting against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act thing and the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization and Expansion, and the Hate Crime Expansion. But that's just rumor and conjecture. She wouldn't do that......she's grrreat!!!

Yes, this is sarcasm. And no, I am not calling Ms. Jenkins a racist. Read the sentence again, people. I actually prefer the former explanation. It accounts for so much more of her behavior.

FarleyM 4 years, 9 months ago

If I couldn't afford Insurance last year. How will I afford it next year?

ksjayhawk74 4 years, 9 months ago

Because the exchanges make the the cost of premiums lower than they used to be. Also, if you may very likely qualify for tax credits to compensate you for what you paid for insurance.

FlintlockRifle 4 years, 9 months ago

Hey Kansas Conscience, good come back, liked that one plus a very good read.

FarleyM 4 years, 9 months ago

If I don't make any money or want to pay the penalty for not wanting to pay for insurance can I still go to the ER is I'm sick? I don't think it's fair to be forced to pay a penalty if I don't want something.

tomatogrower 4 years, 9 months ago

So are you just a deadbeat who wants the rest of us to take care of you? Conservatives (eye roll) they want good road, but don't want to pay taxes. They want air travel, but don't want to pay taxes. They want health care they don't have to be responsible for. They went to a public school paid by other people's taxes, but don't ask them to do the same. Who are the deadbeats?

phsxtchr 4 years, 8 months ago

Congress is NOT exempt from ACA. Quite the opposite in fact. An amendment was included that mandates that Congress' current insurance coverage be ended and that they must use the new exchanges.

The fact that this falsehood is believed and propagated (despite the ease of doing a little research via the Internet) is proof that Mr. Weisgrau's work is sorely needed.

Centerville 4 years, 8 months ago

Guess who is exempt? That's right, President Obama and Secretary Sibileus. You won't find them slumming with the non-exempts.

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