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Most uninsured unaware of cost breaks for Obamacare

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Published Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at 6:19 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, at 10:38 a.m.

— Obamacare supporters say nonstop news coverage of HealthCare.gov’s early technical problems has hurt efforts to inform the uninsured about financial assistance that can help them purchase marketplace health coverage.

With less than three months before the Affordable Care Act’s six-month open enrollment period ends on March 31, a whopping 69 percent of uninsured Americans don’t know about the tax credits and other assistance that will make coverage more affordable, according to a new survey of the uninsured released Thursday by Enroll America, a national coalition working on behalf of Obamacare.

That helps explain why 68 percent of survey respondents haven’t visited their state marketplace or HealthCare.gov, the federal exchange portal that serves 36 states. They simply don’t believe they can afford coverage.

African-Americans, Latinos, low-income people and those without a college degree are less likely to know about available financial help, the survey found.

“So if you know from experience that health insurance is not affordable and you don’t know that the law has changed that for you, you’re just a little stuck,” said Tresa Undem, a partner at PerryUndem, the public opinion research firm that conducted the national phone survey of 910 people. “The mentality is like, ‘If I can’t afford shoes, I don’t go shoe shopping.’”

Efforts by Enroll America and the Obama administration to spread the word about financial assistance in October and November were drowned out by media reports on HealthCare.gov’s problems, according to Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America.

Although enrollment picked up in December and more than 2 million Americans have now purchased marketplace coverage through December, the Obama administration is far from reaching its goal of enrolling 7 million people into coverage by March 31.

In addition, the survey found that 81 percent of uninsured Americans don’t even know they must enroll in coverage by March 31 or face fines for noncompliance. Twelve percent thought the enrollment deadline was in December, 19 percent thought it was in January and 45 percent had no idea.

“If that much media coverage were around subsidies and financial help and what plans cover, we would just be in a totally different place,” Undem said.

To help boost public awareness of the financial help and step up enrollment, Enroll America has hired 58 new organizers, to bring the national total to 258. More than 200 of the enrollment specialists are working in the 11 states with the largest number of uninsured residents: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

The new organizers will join more than 14,000 enrollment volunteers nationwide to help expand the outreach campaign beyond densely populated urban areas to smaller, mid-size cities like Knoxville, Tenn., and Tallahassee and Gainesville in Florida, said John Gilbert, Enroll America’s national field director.

In response to the survey findings, Enroll America will modify its phone and canvassing efforts to emphasize the financial help that’s available to low- and moderate-income people. The group also will adjust its advertising to steer people to an online “Get Covered Calculator,” which provides individual subsidy estimates for people who submit information about their income.

Email: tpugh@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @TonyPughDC

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