Health-care law loses support among uninsured, poll shows

Support for the health-care law declined among the uninsured this month, just as many of the program’s key provisions went into effect, according to a new poll examining Americans’ knowledge and views of the Affordable Care Act.

Large numbers of the uninsured are also unaware of some of the law’s benefits, such as subsidies to help low- and middle-
income­ people pay monthly health insurance premiums, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Fifty-three percent of uninsured Americans are unaware of the law’s bar on insurance companies rejecting people with preexisting conditions.

But 79 percent of the uninsured were aware of the requirement that most Americans must carry health insurance starting this year or pay a fine. Like other provisions of the law, this mandate took effect Jan. 1, although people have until March 31 to avoid the penalty.

The results underscore the challenge confronting the Obama administration, which faces the March 31 deadline for getting people signed up for coverage. The administration has struggled since the law’s enactment in 2010 to improve public perceptions of the legislation, especially among the uninsured, who are supposed to be its primary beneficiaries.

In promoting the law, advocacy groups and the White House have stressed how the subsidies have made insurance affordable for many Americans, even as Republicans have highlighted stories of those whose premiums have increased.

“Not long ago, I got a letter from Bette in Spokane, who hoped the president’s health-care law would save her money — but found out instead that her premiums were going up nearly $700 a month,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said Tuesday in her rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Enroll America, the largest nonprofit group devoted to enrolling people in health plans under the law, is trying to counter the Republican argument with digital ads touting, “1 / 2 of Uninsured Americans Can Get Covered for $100/mo or Less” and “Need Help Paying Health for Insurance? Find Out if You Qualify — Learn More!”

The group has retooled its message to focus almost exclusively on affordability. “When people do find out about financial assistance, it’s a huge motivator and enrollment goes up,” Enroll America spokesman Justin Nisly said.

The health-care law made government assistance available to people in different forms. It lets states expand Medicaid to include more low-income people. People with slightly higher incomes who earn up to 400 percent of the poverty level, or $45,960 for an individual, can get federal subsidies. In states that chose not to expand Medicaid, there is a coverage gap, with no assistance for many low-income people.

The Kaiser poll was conducted Jan. 14 to 21 among a random national sample of 1,506 adults reached on conventional and cellular phones. The margin of error among the 173 uninsured respondents younger than 65 is plus or minus eight percentage points.

It found that a quarter of the uninsured had a favorable view of the law this month, while nearly twice as many held an unfavorable view. While the uninsured were negative overall about the law in December, they were less so then, with 36 percent of uninsured people offering a favorable assessment and 43 percent responding unfavorably.

Scott Clement and Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

Sandhya Somashekhar is the social change reporter for the Washington Post.
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