Deadline? What Deadline?! The Uninsured Are Still in the Dark About Obamacare

A blog about business and economics.
March 26 2014 11:00 AM

Deadline? What Deadline?! The Uninsured Are Still in the Dark About Obamacare

Kathleen Sebelius speaks in Detroit.
Nobody is listening, Kathleen.

Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images

The White House announced last night that it would extend Obamacare’s insurance enrollment deadline past March 31 for those who have tried and failed to sign up for coverage. Which is to say, it’s moving the due date for pretty much everybody, because applicants who want the extra time just need to click a box on healthcare.gov stating that they already tried to enroll at some point. As the Washington Post reports, “This method will rely on an honor system; the government will not try to determine whether the person is telling the truth.”

That’s probably for the best, because according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s newest health tracking poll, only one-third of the currently uninsured have actually tried to get coverage in the past six months. Meanwhile, 60 percent didn’t even know the deadline date. And, maybe most worrisomely if you’re part of the Obama administration, half of them plan to stay uninsured anyway, even though they might have to pay a fine. (A quick aside: Kaiser only polled 150 uninsured individuals, so it’s margin of sampling error is a pretty big plus or minus 9 percentage points. Still, better than no info.)

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Now, it may be that some of those happily uninsured think they’ll qualify for a hardship exemption, which would allow them to go uninsured without a fine. More likely, most are clueless about their options. A whole 43 percent of the uninsured didn’t know that the law offers subsidies to help families get insurance. As always seems to be the case with this law, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

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