Many uninsured Americans still don't know about Affordable Care Act

Nearly one-third of uninsured are unaware of health insurance exchanges, according to new poll

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act signup page on the website in New York on Oct. 2, 2013.
Mike Segar/Reuters

Despite months of outreach aiming to educate Americans about how to sign up for health insurance plans through new statewide exchanges and multiple speeches given by President Barack Obama encouraging them to do so, many uninsured people – who stand to benefit the most from the Affordable Care Act – have never even heard of the health insurance exchanges, according to a new nationwide survey.

Among more than 1,000 people between the ages of 18 and 64 who answered an online questionnaire about the Affordable Care Act in November 2013, 31 percent of those who didn’t have health insurance had never heard of the health insurance marketplaces, according to the Transamerica Center for Health Studies, a Los Angeles-based health care non-profit organization.

That’s compared with 15 percent of those surveyed overall who weren’t aware of the health insurance exchanges launched on Oct. 1, where those who don’t have insurance coverage through their jobs can buy individual or family plans that kick in on Jan. 1.

The findings echo a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation which found that among more than 1,500 adults interviewed in September — just weeks before the exchanges were set to open — only 12 percent of uninsured people and 15 percent overall were able to correctly answer that the health-insurance marketplaces open Oct. 1.

President Obama’s signature health care law creates health insurance marketplaces in each state where people can shop for plans among numerous offerings from participating insurance companies. It also expands Medicaid programs for low-income adults in the states that have accepted federal funding for it, both of which are boons for the approximately 47 million Americans who did not have health insurance in 2012.

Since people who don’t currently have insurance coverage, then, are the ones who are set to benefit from the exchanges, the fact that nearly one-third of the uninsured people polled by the Transamerica Center don't know the exchanges exist does not bode well.

“More Americans are informed and prepared for the March 31, 2014 mandatory health coverage date, but a significant number have yet to actually sign up for health insurance in the exchanges or in the traditional insurance market,” said Hector De La Torre, executive director of the Transamerica Center for Health Studies, in a released statement. “The uninsured continue to be the least active, which could be because they feel the least prepared and also are the least satisfied with the health care system.”

Among the findings of the survey were that 61 percent of those uninsured people who were polled said they have done “nothing” within the last 12 months to prepare for the launch of the ACA. Just 35 percent of uninsured people said they were “somewhat” or “very” prepared for the new health care exchanges, a significant drop from the 53 percent of uninsured people who said so in a similar survey conducted by Transamerica in July.

Six percent of all people polled said they intended to buy health insurance through the new exchanges, but only 2 percent had already done so.

The website, where residents of the 36 states whose exchanges are operated by the federal government are supposed to sign up for individual and family health insurance plans, has been riddled with errors and delays.

As a result, enrollment numbers have been low, although the Obama administration says most of the kinks have been ironed out. More than 29,000 people enrolled in insurance plans on during the first two days of December, more than the approximately 27,000 people who enrolled during the entire month of October following the site’s launch, Reuters reported.

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