“Never heard,” said Lenard Pringle, 54, a Greenbelt resident who said he was not aware of any changes coming to the health-care system. He did not know that in a few months, he will be eligible for Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor that is expanding under the law.
He is not alone. More than six in 10 Americans say they do not have the information necessary to understand the changes the law will bring, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The results underscore the tough job that lies ahead for the administration, which aims to coax 7 million uninsured people to sign up for coverage by the end of March. This summer, many of its allies embarked on public relations campaigns meant to educate people that they can sign up for health-care plans and perhaps qualify for government assistance starting in the fall.
Among those promoting the law are insurance companies. Evergreen, a new Maryland-based health co-op, has been approaching people in areas with large concentrations of uninsured people to tell them about the law and urge them to sign up with Evergreen.
Pringle, who was waiting at a bus stop in Greenbelt on Wednesday, said he is unemployed and does not have health insurance. Whenever he needs to refill his prescriptions for diabetes and blood pressure medications, he picks up an odd job, such as cutting grass, to pay for them. Sometimes, he said, he goes without his pills.
An Evergreen worker handed him a brochure, explaining that he would probably receive free coverage next year through Medicaid. Pringle had one question: “What number do I call?”
The confusion stretches across age, race, gender, party affiliation and income groups, according to the poll. It also cuts across geography, which is significant because some states are promoting the law more actively than others.
Even some supporters of the legislation are unclear about what it will do.
“I think if you have a serious illness, you should be entitled to a doctor,” said Joan Fernandez, 62, of Deep Water, Mo., a poll respondent who said she does not know what to expect from the law. “I don’t know how Obamacare would affect anything like that, but hopefully it would.”
White House officials say it is not surprising that people are confused, because health insurance is confusing and specific information about policies and rates will not be available until Oct. 1, when open enrollment begins. People will then have six months to comply with the requirement that virtually every American have coverage or pay a fine.
Chris Jennings, White House coordinator for health-care reform, said the administration will begin its big public information push after Oct. 1 so people can find out online how the law will affect them.