National poll finds many who need health coverage didn’t even shop for it because they didn’t think they could afford it

By Melissa PatrickKentucky Health News

The top two reasons people gave for getting health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were compliance with the law and a desire to see a doctor, according to a recent survey by PerryUndem Research/Communication for Enroll America, a group promoting the law.

The poll also found that many people needed health coverage but didn’t even shop for it because they thought they couldn’t afford it. UPDATE, June 14: “Convincing Americans that they could afford insurance was the White House’s biggest challenge in making Obamacare work,” Ezra Klein reports on Vox.

Four in 10 of those surveyed who did enroll that they might not have signed up if the 2010 law hadn’t required them to do so. Mike Perry of PerryUndem told Louise Radnofsky of The Wall Street Journal that the poll suggested that “The mandate was a big factor even if it wasn’t politically popular.”

The survey also found there was a high demand for health insurance during the first open enrollment period, which ended in April. Kentucky also found this to be true, said Gwenda Bond, assistant communications director for the Cabinet For Health and Family Services.

“In Kentucky, we definitely experienced high demand from the beginning of open enrollment Oct. 1, which continued to increase right up through the end of the open enrollment period,” Bond said in an e-mail.

Kentucky ended up providing coverage to about 420,000 people in the state, with about three-fourths reporting they did not have insurance before signing up through Kynect, the state’s health-insurance exchange.

Despite the demand,the national poll found that 61 percent of those who did not enroll still wanted coverage and the main reason they did not even look for it was because they thought they couldn’t afford it.

Some of these people may not have been aware that they could qualify for free coverage through Medicaid. Almost 25 percent of the newly enrolled cited “I qualified for Medicaid” as a reason they enrolled, and over half of that population said it was the main reason.

Kentucky is working on this issue of affordability perception, Bond said. “We will be working to make it easier for individuals and small businesses to get information or a quote up front that estimates the amount of subsidies or discounts they may qualify for, before they ever begin an application,”she said in the email.

More than eight out of 10 surveyed nationally said they will consider enrolling next time.

The poll surveyed 671 newly enrolled people and 853 who remained uninsured. It was conducted April 10-28. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Other key findings in the poll included: 69 percent of the newly enrolled thought the process was “easy,” especially if they enrolled in person instead of the phone; 74 percent of those in private plans felt confident they can afford their premiums, and many more think their plans have enough doctors than not (56 percent vs. 13 percent). The self-reported health status of those who enrolled and those who didn’t was similar.

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