Confusion Over Deadlines Jeopardizes Obamacare
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The Fiscal Times
January 27, 2014

As the enrollment deadline approaches for Obamacare, The White House is counting on a surge of sign ups. But more than half of Americans have no idea when that deadline is, and even more are shrugging it off because they believe it will be extended.

Despite the administration’s outreach efforts, a new Bankrate survey shows 55 percent still aren’t aware of the March 31 health care sign up deadline through the exchanges. Nearly 25 percent believe it already passed on January 1, and 11 percent think they still have until December 31, 2014 to sign up—nine months late.

Related: Obamacare Enrollment Hits 3 Million Milestone

Enrollment in the exchanges jumped significantly ahead of the December 24 cutoff to receive coverage taking effect on Jan. 1. But the next deadline doesn’t seem to be resonating among the public yet. Of the 3 million sign-ups to date, the White House has not yet released the number of people who have actually paid for an insurance policy.

“Many Americans are not taking the deadline to sign up for Obamacare seriously,” Bankrate.com insurance analyst Doug Whiteman said in a statement. Indeed. Some 62 percent of Americans who are aware of the deadline believe the government will push it back to a later date.

This could be bad news for the White House, which has repeatedly waved off lower than expected enrollment numbers by saying that many people, especially younger Americans who are central to the law’s success, are likely to wait until the last minute to sign up.

Advocates routinely point to Massachusetts, where in 2007, enrollment numbers for Bay Staters 35-years-old and younger more than doubled in the final month of open enrollment. The White House hopes Obamacare enrollments will follow a similar pattern.

Related: Why Millennials Are Obamacare’s Last Hope

“We think more and more young people will sign up as time goes by, just as they did in Massachusetts,” Gary Cohen, director of CMS’s Center for Consumer Information and Oversight, told reporters last month. “We are very pleased with the percentage that we have and we expect that to increase.”

The survey, however, found that young people 18 to 29 are the most confused about the March 31 deadline, and more than ever think the government will push back it back. Moreover, early indicators suggest that millennial sign-ups are falling short of the goal.

The Obama administration has estimated that it needs about 40 percent of total enrollees to be healthy young people in order to offset the cost of premiums for older, sicker Americans. “If they continue to procrastinate past the deadline, it could cause insurance premiums to increase,” Whitman said.

According to December estimates, young people make up just 24 percent of total enrollments.

Related: White House Claims it Will Reach Obamacare Goal

Since then, however, 800,000 more people have signed up for Obamacare in January, bringing the total number of signups to 3 million, according to the latest figures released by the administration on Friday. Demographic information was not provided, so it is not clear how many of those were within the younger age group.

Americans who miss the March 31 cutoff will be required to wait until the next open enrollment period begins.

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Washington Correspondent Brianna Ehley, based in D.C., covers Congress, government agencies and spending issues, health care, and tax and economic policy for The Fiscal Times.