Poll: 42 percent of Americans unsure if Obamacare is still law

April 30, 2013

If you want to know what a challenge the Obama administration faces in implementing its signature health-care law, this statistic might help: Fewer than six in 10 Americans know that the Obamacare law is still on the books. Seven percent think the Supreme Court struck it down; 12 percent say Congress repealed Obamacare.

This comes from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is out with a poll Tuesday morning looking at how much Americans know about the health-care overhaul—before a deluge of public outreach, set to begin this summer, kicks off.

The short answer is: They do not know a lot. Most Americans likely to access new health care programs under the Affordable Care Act—either through subsidized private insurance or the Medicaid expansion—say they don't have enough information to understand "how it [the health law] will impact you and your family."

This poll does, however, show greater awareness than separate research conducted last winter by Enroll America, a new non-profit that's leading much of the outreach effort. It found that 78 percent of Americans likely to gain access to health coverage had no idea that such programs would roll out in 2014.

The challenge that the Obama administration faces is more complex than just increasing awareness and improving public awareness. It has a lot to do with improving knowledge at the exact right time—not when benefits are way out in the distance, but also not when the public has passed them by.

Consider what would happen if the Obama administration ramped up its public education effort today. There would television ads, door-to-door campaigns, celebrity endorsements and a slew of other commitments. They would all advertise new health care options—which wouldn't be available for another seven months.

When I've talked to health care advocates, this is a dilemma they talk about a lot. They certainly want more people to know about the law,  but at the same time they don't want to sell a product that won't be on the market until the end of the year. Open enrollment on the exchanges begins in October for health plan options that will kick in on Jan. 1, 2014.

That's why Enroll America will wait until this summer or fall to kick off its public awareness campaign. The White House has looked at getting rolling in June. This means that public awareness will probably stay low for the next few months. And health law supporters might be okay with that: They'd rather come to customers with a product to sell, rather than turn up with nothing to offer.

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Neil Irwin · April 30, 2013