Even as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was hauled before the Senate Wednesday to face another grilling from lawmakers over glitches plaguing HealthCare.gov and opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), uninsured Americans are showing more interest in the coverage offered under the law, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.
Despite the disastrous rollout, the uninsured view the ACA, commonly known as Obamacare, more favorably since online marketplaces opened — 44 percent compared with 37 percent in September, according to the poll. The survey found that 56 percent oppose the program, down from 63 percent in September.
The poll's findings are good news for Obamacare supporters who worry that problems and bad press could dissuade people from signing up, particularly the young and healthy, who are crucial to diversifying the pool of the insured and keeping premiums down.
Sebelius conceded at Wednesday's hearing of the Senate Finance Committee that "there is no excuse for what has been a miserable five weeks" with the site's rollout. But it was a less tense grilling than the fiery hearing in the House on Oct. 30.
HealthCare.gov, the online insurance marketplace meant to serve people in 36 states, has been crippled by the glitches, frustrating millions of would-be applicants since it opened for enrollment on Oct. 1.
Several senators on the panel, including its chairman, Max Baucus, D-Mont., asked Sebelius why the website had not just been shut down so it could be "done right" — an idea Sebelius rejected, saying it would be better to continue fixing the site and test it in real time, applying "hot fixes" when Web traffic is down.
Meanwhile, a higher proportion of the uninsured also said they are interested in buying insurance on the exchanges, with 42 percent in October saying they were likely to enroll, compared with 37 percent the previous month. The results have a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
"The launch of the exchanges, that's the first real-world event for a lot of people," said Chris Jackson, an Ipsos pollster. "There's been this sense that once people got familiar with it, public opinion would start to move in its direction."
The online poll of nearly 12,000 people was conducted in October. Some 1,100 of the respondents identified themselves as uninsured.
Among the general public, support for the law rose from nearly 44 percent to 47 percent, with a credibility interval of 1 percentage point, according to the poll.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that up to 7 million people are likely to sign up for coverage on the private exchanges for 2014, but that number has been called into question because of HealthCare.gov's problems.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated that more than 17 million people will be eligible for subsidies to help offset the costs of their health care plans.
The Obama administration has said it is working around the clock to fix the website by the end of November.
The poll results showed that the rise in both the law's popularity and in willingness among the uninsured to buy was much greater in the 14 states that chose to run their own exchanges and whose sites have generally operated more smoothly than HealthCare.gov, which serves the other states.
More than half of respondents in state-run exchanges now favor the law, compared with about four in 10 elsewhere.
To the uninsured, the faulty website is "a technical barrier that is being repaired, and it pales to barriers they've faced in the past," said Sara Collins, vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, a private health care research foundation.
The law bans insurers from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions and provides subsidies to help low- to middle-income Americans buy private insurance. The Congressional Budget Office has projected it will cut the uninsured population by half, or about 25 million people, in the next decade.
Reuters. Dexter Mullins contributed to this report.