A recent Gallup poll suggests that more than half of uninsured people living in the United States plan to enroll in health insurance this year. The poll, which was conducted via land line and cell phone between Oct. 22 and Nov. 12, reveals widespread knowledge about the federal requirement to purchase health insurance and indicates that about half of uninsured Americans plan to purchase health insurance via the health insurance exchange site.
With the federal enrollment period officially open as of Nov. 15, Americans have just three months to enroll in health insurance, make changes to their policies or forgo insurance entirely. The Gallup poll is a strong indicator that this open enrollment season should see a decreased number of enrollees versus last year at this time. In addition, there are some concerns about the number of people who are unfamiliar with the individual mandate and the marketplace in general.
Unfamiliarity with the Law
When respondents were asked whether they knew about the requirement to purchase health insurance or face a fine, approximately 28 percent answered that they were unaware of this requirement while 1 percent indicated that they had no opinion. It seems remarkable that so many respondents would indicate ignorance about the law when the individual mandate has been one of the more controversial aspects of the Affordable Care Act. However, the results aren’t entirely surprising given the confusion surrounding this particular aspect of the law.
In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate that requires all eligible citizens to purchase health insurance. Since then, various challenges to the new law have appeared almost weekly online and in the media. For many Americans, their responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act remain murky at best.
Even if people understand their responsibilities, as many as 35 percent of the 976 uninsured Americans polled for the Gallup survey indicated that they would be paying the fine instead of purchasing insurance. In 2014, the fine for not having insurance was the greater of $95 per individual or 1 percent of a person’s taxable income. Those who don’t use insurance often or who assume they won’t need coverage may have opted to just pay the fine rather than spend $100 or more per month on insurance.
Unfortunately for people who choose to pay the non-compliance fine, the fee will increase for next year. In 2015, the fine jumps to the greater of $325 or 2 percent of a person’s taxable income. This is a significant increase, and many people without insurance may not understand that the penalty fine will only increase over the next few years. The fine may not be prohibitively expensive right now, but consumers will see substantial increases as the healthcare law matures.
The Significance of Political Influence
Political influence can’t be underestimated as a contributing factor to the hesitance surrounding enrollment. The Gallup poll confirms that uninsured Democrats are more likely than uninsured Republicans to consider purchasing health insurance this year. A promising 62 percent of Democrats stated that they were more likely to get insurance this year while only 47 percent of Republicans answered in the affirmative. These numbers include independent voters who lean toward one side or the other.
Republicans are also more likely to pay the fine than are Democrats, and a higher percentage of Republicans claims to have no opinion on the issue at all. Still, it should be noted that uninsured Americans are largely Democratic, which may offer at least one explanation for the weighted responses. Of uninsured Americans, 43 percent vote Democrat while 28 vote Republican. The remaining 29 percent don’t affiliate with a particular party or political ideal.
Changing Attitudes of Enrollees
The Gallup poll also indicates that fewer uninsured Americans will be enrolling for the 2015 season. Gallup tracking for last year during this time period revealed that 63 percent of the uninsured population planned to sign up for health insurance. This year, the number has decreased to just 55 percent.
However, one explanation for the decrease is that fewer Americans need to enroll in health insurance this year because they did so last year. In fact, additional Gallup surveys indicate that the number of uninsured Americans is down 5 percent from the third quarter last year. People may become less motivated to purchase insurance as the uninsured population dwindles in America.
Also notable is the fact that more Americans are likely to purchase health insurance through the exchange sites this year than they were at the same time last year. The survey reveals that about half of the respondents who plan to purchase insurance will do so through the marketplaces. During November 2013, the percentage was 46. Likewise, 38 percent of uninsured Americans planned to purchase health insurance outside of the marketplace in 2013; in 2014, that number has decreased to 29 percent.
Unfortunately, the numbers regarding the exchanges aren’t entirely promising. When asked about their familiarity with the health insurance exchanges, 46 percent of respondents indicated that they were not at all familiar with these sites.
The health insurance exchange sites, also known as the “marketplace,” allow easy access to health insurance options for uninsured individuals who don’t have other options when it comes to obtaining insurance. If people aren’t familiar with how these sites work, then Obamacare proponents will have to address this issue in order to promote greater awareness among the uninsured population.
Despite the fact that approximately 30 percent of the respondents in the Gallup poll were unaware of the requirement to purchase health insurance, the results of the poll suggest a positive future for the Affordable Care Act and health insurance in general. Seven out of ten respondents know that they have to purchase insurance to meet the requirements of the law, and more than half of those polled stated that they were planning to sign up for insurance this year.
As it stands, approximately 13 percent of Americans don’t have any type of health insurance. That number might not sound significant, but with a population of around 317 million people this year, that puts the number of people without insurance at just over 41 million. There are more people living in the United States without health insurance than there are residents of the entire state of California.
Many Americans simply may not have decided whether to sign up for health insurance during the enrollment period this year, but numbers indicate that the Affordable Care Act is doing its proposed job. By offering more options for people to purchase health insurance, lawmakers hope to see an increase in the number of insured Americans. If trends continue, it appears that a significant portion of Americans will gain appropriate coverage over time.