Most uninsured Americans unaware of options under health law, survey finds

BY newsdesk  January 23, 2014 at 5:42 PM EDT
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

A new survey suggests the Obama administration needs to continue informing the public about coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Almost a month into 2014, most uninsured Americans remain oblivious to their coverage options under the Affordable Care Act. In fact, less than 40 percent of the uninsured say they’ll gain coverage in the coming year, according to a new survey released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

And for many, that’s true — health insurance will remain beyond reach either because their state chose not to expand Medicaid or they’ve decided to skip coverage and pay the fine. For others, it’s a simple misunderstanding.

Researchers with the Urban Institute — the group that authored the report in partnership with RWJF — found that only 31 percent of those eligible for Medicaid know they qualify for the newly expanded health care program for the poor. And roughly 35 percent of uninsured adults who qualify for subsidies know that they can go shopping for discounted health insurance on the now-functioning online marketplaces.

Just as troubling to supporters of the law? Only about 40 percent of those who said they’ll remain uninsured thought they would be required to pay a fine. In reality, most uninsured Americans — especially those not qualifying for a hardship exemption — will need to comply with the so-called “individual mandate” to either purchase coverage or pay the penalty.

The authors’ conclusion about all of this was pretty blunt: The Obama administration better get busy spreading the word if they want the law to succeed.

“The survey respondents’ relative lack of knowledge about the availability of free or subsidized health insurance illustrates the need for increased outreach,” said Katherine Hempstead, who leads coverage issues at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “People should know that help is available.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is an underwriter of the PBS NewsHour’s health unit.