Public on Obamacare: Huh? What?

KINGMAN - A new Kaiser Health Tracking Poll shows that confusion and a lack of awareness about the deadline to sign up for the Affordable Care Act and how to enroll in its exchanges continue among the nation's uninsured.

The poll, issued in February by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, showed that about 75 percent of those who reported being uninsured in February were unaware that the deadline to sign up for coverage and avoid paying a penalty is March 31. And nearly two-thirds said they know only a little or nothing at all about the ACA's health care marketplaces.

That's not good news for President Obama's administration and ACA advocacy groups, which are hoping to boost sign-ups in the final days of open enrollment, especially among people 18 to 34 years old. Younger enrollees are crucial to the ACA's success because they are thought to be healthier and less expensive, offsetting costs incurred by older, sicker enrollees. Next year's premiums could jump if too many high-cost people enroll.

Nationwide, more than 4.2 million people have signed up for insurance on the ACA exchanges this year. In Arizona, 58,000 residents have picked insurance plans under the new law in the first five months of open enrollment. The figures are below the number of people projected by this time and they don't reflect how many people have actually made a premium payment. Arizona was projected to have signed up about 84,000 people by now.

The lack of information about the ACA among the uninsured isn't surprising, said Jeff Stelnik, vice president of strategy, marketing and sales for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. People have not been quick to embrace the marketplace and in many cases have been discouraged already by their shopping experience, said Stelnik.

"Because the health care reform law has experienced some challenges in its introduction, from the web issues to renewal changes, these issues have made it difficult for people to understand what is already a complex topic," said Stelnik. "And while community organizations, insurers and leadership across the state are working tirelessly to spread the word, there's still a lot of education to be done."

It's important for the uninsured to understand the importance of purchasing a plan by the March 31 deadline, said Stelnik. Once it passes, people will be locked out of the marketplace until November unless they experience a qualifying event, such as a change in marital status, birth of a child or the loss of a job. And they will face penalties for failing to enroll.

"Assistance is the key to educating consumers," said Stelnik. "Working with a trusted, knowledgeable advisor is the most effective way to help people navigate their health insurance options."

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit agency focusing on major health care issues facing the U.S., as well as the nation's role in global health policy.

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