The beleaguered Healthcare.gov website prevented many of the Americans who are eligible for new insurance coverage options under Obamacare from enrolling in a health plan in October. But that won’t stop the majority of them from trying again, according to a new survey by the Commonwealth Fund.
The survey found that 17 percent of adults who might be eligible for coverage through Obamacare visited either a state or the federal marketplace in October, and that 60 percent of respondents are aware of the marketplaces’ existence. That’s nearly a 33 percent spike in awareness, compared to a similar survey in September.
The vast majority — 76 percent — did not enroll in a plan, while just one in five adults surveyed did enroll. But three of five adults who either hadn’t yet visited a marketplace or visited one without enrolling said they’ll be back. Those people plan to either enroll in a plan, find out if they’re eligible for financial assistance to buy a policy under Obamacare, or find out if they’re eligible for Medicaid by the end of the initial open enrollment period:
CREDIT: The Commonwealth Fund
Americans have until March 31, 2014 to enroll in a private Obamacare marketplace plan or an expanded Medicaid program in states that accepted federal money to do so under the law.
A majority of the adults (about 58 percent) who did explore an Obamacare marketplace in October found it either difficult or “impossible” to compare plan benefits or identify a plan that met their coverage needs. Just under half of these respondents said they are still uncertain whether or not they can afford a plan — unsurprising, considering that 37 percent directly cited technical problems with the website as the reason they didn’t enroll. Healthcare.gov’s various glitches have made it difficult to provide consumers with accurate information about federal subsidies that will be available to a majority of Americans who will newly gain insurance under Obamacare.
“For the vast majority of uninsured people in the United States, the temporary barrier of a malfunctioning website could pale in comparison to the permanent barriers they have faced in the past and which are redressed by the law: paying the full premium for a plan despite low income, and being charged a higher premium, having a service excluded from their plan, or being turned down altogether because of a preexisting condition,” wrote Commonwealth Fund researchers in their accompanying commentary with the survey. “These barriers left 50 million people uninsured in the year the Affordable Care Act was signed into law.”
The demographics of the people who visited the marketplaces could also bode well for the health reform law.
The Obama administration estimates that approximately 39 percent of individuals who enroll in a private marketplace plan in the first year will need to be relatively young and healthy in order to spread risk through the insurance pools and keep premiums low. While the number of very young adults visiting the marketplaces in the first month didn’t clear that number — 21 percent of visitors were between 19 to 29 years old — the overall population that browsed the marketplaces met an even more important threshold.
According to the survey, 48 percent of marketplace visitors described themselves as being in “excellent” or “very good” health. Another 25 percent said they were in “good health,” and just 26 percent of respondents said they were in poor or fair health. That’s particularly encouraging since many health policy experts were expecting the first month of enrollment to be disproportionately skewed towards older and sicker people who are more desperate for health insurance but costlier to cover.