Two new polls tell us Americans are very, very confused about Obamacare

September 16, 2013

Obamacare opens for enrollment in 15 days and, if two new polls are any indication, the White House has a whole lot of work to do in the next two weeks. Taken together, the polls from Pew Research Center/USA Today and Wall Street Journal/NBC News take a pretty good snapshot of where Americans are right now, just days before open enrollment starts. Let's get right to it.

The uninsured are unsure of what the health care law means. The Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll found that those most likely to benefit from the health care law are largely unaware of the overhaul–and also skeptical that they will use the new programs, when they launch on Oct. 1. From the Journal's Louise Radnofsky:

Among the uninsured, 76% of respondents said they didn't understand the law and how it would affect them. Only 32% of the uninsured thought they were "fairly" or "very" likely to use the exchanges. That proportion was even lower among people who are currently getting insurance on the individual market. Of those, 23% believed they would use the exchanges.

 

They also tend to be view the health law more negatively than those who have insurance coverage. 

This is something that I've run into before in my reporting, where those who have been shut out of the insurance market in the past tend to be incredibly dubious of the health law's new options.

“Change is good, and it may be a real change, but if it was doable, it would have been done by now,” Marina Sokolovsky, a 26-year-old who lacks insurance, told me when I met her late last year at a focus group on the health law. “For how complicated things are, it would be a really big shift to find something functional. I just don’t think that’s possible.”

This tended to be true of a lot of the people I met at the focus group: They were a tough sell on the idea that the health law might actually work.

Republicans aren't sure what to do with the health care law either. 


Pew Research Center, in partnership with USA Today, finds a split between the 53 percent of Americans who oppose the health care law. Twenty-seven want elected officials to make the law work as well as possible. A slightly smaller number, 23 percent, would like to see elected officials make it fail. Sixty-four percent of tea party Republicans told pollsters they wanted elected officials to work against the Affordable Care Act.

You see this split reflected across the country, where you have some Republican-governed states moving forward on the health law's Medicaid expansion and others forgoing the option.

Most people know about the individual mandate. Fewer know about subsidies to buy coverage. 

This has been true of the health care law pretty much since it passed, and likely has a good deal to do with the Supreme Court battle, which brought the health law's requirement to purchase health insurance front and center. If you'd like to learn a bit more about premium subsidies under the health law, you can read more here.

Young people are most open to the health care law. Really!

From NBC's First Read team, on the WSJ/NBC poll:

Among those 65 and old, just 22% think the law is a good idea, versus 55% who believe it’s a bad idea. Among those 50-64, it’s 34% good idea, 46% bad idea. Among those 35-49, it’s 33% good idea, 49% bad idea. And among 18-34, it’s 31% good idea, 33% bad idea. Strikingly, however, the people who are most opposed are those who aren’t impacted much by the law, because they already qualify for Medicare. The silver lining for the Obama administration and Democrats is that young Americans -- who will continue to vote in elections for generations to come -- are the ones who are most open to the law.

The White House is especially focused on making sure that young people sign up for the health law's new programs, because they tend to be relatively healthy and could help hold premiums down for the entire market. What we don't know now is whether support for the law translates into actually buying into coverage.

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Ezra Klein · September 16, 2013