Uninsured Are Still Unaware of Obamacare Deadline
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The Fiscal Times
March 4, 2014

The majority of uninsured Americans are still largely unaware of Obamacare and the crucial March 31 deadline to sign up for coverage through the new exchanges. Those without health insurance April 1 and beyond will be subjected to a tax penalty imposed under the new healthcare law.

The latest survey from Kaiser Family Foundation found that some 76 percent of Americans without coverage are unaware of the deadline. Moreover, just 12 percent of uninsured respondents said they knew “a lot” about Obamacare, while 24 percent knew “some” information about the law, 36 percent knew “a little” and 26 percent knew “nothing at all.”

Related: How Obamacare Could Affect Your Taxes This Year

A similar study by the Urban Institute conducted in mid-February found that just half of the 7,500 adults surveyed said they had heard about the individual mandate—which requires people to have health coverage by March 31, or pay a penalty of $95 or one percent of your annual salary in 2014, whichever is higher.

Awareness of the mandate was especially low among uninsured Americans who will be affected most by the provision. Of the 1,131 people surveyed, only 39 percent of the uninsured said they knew about the mandate, compared to 52 percent of those who had insurance.

Similarly, the study found those below the poverty threshold were significantly less likely to be aware of the mandate - 38 percent compared to 54.7 percent of people living above the poverty threshold who said they knew about the law.

Both survey results are troubling for the White House, which has spent months working on an “aggressive” outreach campaign ahead of the looming deadline to sign up uninsured Americans.

Related: Obamacare Penalty: 4 Things You Don’t Know

The administration has especially tried to attract young and health Americans in order to offset the costs of coverage for older, sicker people who tend to rack up higher medical bills.

So far, 4 million people have signed up for Obamacare through February. Some 27 percent are Americans ages 18-24 - well below the White House’s 40 percent benchmark.

Aside from official enrollment numbers, there are many Americans enrolling in coverage outside of the health exchanges that are still crucial to the risk pools that will keep premiums stable.

CNN reported that E-Health claimed 40 percent of people buying coverage on individual, off-exchange plans in the fourth quarter were young Americans. Of course, the number of enrollees is much smaller than the sign-ups through the state or federal marketplace; yet it still matters since they share a risk pool, which will help drive premiums down when insurers set prices for 2015. 

Related: 4 Hidden Mysteries in the Obamacare Enrollment Numbers 

We also don't know how many people enrolled in ACA coverage directly through their insurer, as the White House was encouraging people to do at the height of the website's problems. So, there could potentially be more enrollees that the administration’s numbers currently reflect. 

On the other hand, we also still don't know how many Obamacare enrollees have actually paid their premiums. A separate survey of insurers conducted by CNN, found one in five enrollees hadn’t paid for their policies. 

Though enrollment was obviously hindered by Obamacare’s rocky rollout last fall, officials say they are still counting on last-minute signups. Though it appears they might want to ramp up their outreach efforts as awareness continues to lag.

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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.