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DIGITS: As exchanges open, uninsured still unclear

Friday - 10/4/2013, 5:00pm  ET

JENNIFER AGIESTA
Associated Press

Americans are no better informed about the 2010 overhaul of the nation's health insurance system than they were shortly after the bill passed, and most of those who would be eligible to buy coverage through the exchanges set to open Tuesday are unaware when they begin and say they don't have enough information to understand what the law's changes mean for them.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has been tracking public opinion on the new law and health care generally just about monthly over the past few years. All that polling results in a comprehensive picture of what the public thinks and knows about the changes coming to the nation's health care system.

One finding that rings clear as a bell: The uninsured are feeling pretty uninformed.

Two-thirds of the uninsured say they do not have enough information to understand how the law will affect them, even as the law's major provisions begin to be implemented. Many of the uninsured will be affected directly by a key component of the law that kicks off Tuesday, when insurance marketplaces are set to open, allowing those who cannot purchase health insurance through an employer to buy it on their own.

A broad majority of those who may be eligible to buy insurance through these exchanges are unaware that they're about to open. The Kaiser Foundation's poll conducted Sept. 12-18 included interviews with 200 people who lack health insurance and are too young for Medicare:

-- About three-quarters of them say they don't know when the marketplaces will open. Just 12 percent say they will open in October.

-- Most -- 52 percent -- say they haven't heard anything at all about the exchanges.

-- Only about half of the uninsured are aware that under the law, lower-income individuals can receive financial help to purchase health insurance if their employer doesn't offer it.

-- There also may be confusion about who's selling coverage through the exchanges: Whether they are currently insured or not, most believe the law creates a new government-run insurance plan to be offered alongside private ones, a provision that was dropped from the bill before it became law.

Over the past three years, the public's awareness of what's in the law has not improved. The Kaiser poll has shown a significant increase in awareness for just one provision of the law: More know about the individual mandate now than just after the law passed in 2010.

Overall, fewer than half of Americans say they have enough information about the law to understand how it will affect them and their family, yet few are seeking out information about it. About a third (36 percent) say they've tried to find information on it in the past few months, 64 percent have not. Among the uninsured, 25 percent have sought information about the law recently.

The survey asked the 51 percent who say they feel uninformed what one question they'd like to have answered about the health overhaul. And after three years with the health law near the center of the political universe, two things topped the public's wish list: an explanation of the costs and a basic summary of how it works.

Those implementing the law have their work cut out for them.

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JennAgiesta

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Online:

Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll: http://kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-september-2013/


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