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Obamacare signs up 3 million

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Posted: 6 am ET

No, it's not where officials hoped it would be by now. And yes, polls indicate there's still massive public confusion over this whole individual mandate business.

But for a brief Washington minute last Friday, federal health officials enjoyed a rare victory jig over the news that, against all odds, Obamacare has signed up 3 million Americans for individual health insurance, with more than two months remaining in the inaugural six-month open enrollment period.

Despite fears that public interest might take a post-holiday plunge, the administration announced that more than 800,000 consumers had signed up for coverage in January alone, joining the roughly 2.2 million new enrollees who managed to obtain coverage between Oct. 1 and year's end. If enrollment continues on course, 1 million of us could obtain coverage this month.

Administration 'encouraged'

"We are encouraged that millions of people have been enrolled in marketplace or Medicaid coverage since October 1, and will work to give millions more Americans the peace of mind that comes with health security in the months ahead," said program spokeswoman Marilyn Tavenner in a statement. "As our outreach efforts kick into even higher gear, we anticipate these numbers will continue to grow, particularly as we reach even more uninsured young adults so that they know that new options and new ways to help eligible individuals pay for their premium are now available, thanks to the Affordable Care Act."

The Obama administration has set its sights on enrolling 7 million Americans through the new federal-state health insurance exchanges by March 31. That's the closing day of open enrollment, after which most Americans without health insurance will face a penalty on their federal income tax.

While the chief obstacles to reaching that goal during the first two months of open enrollment were the assorted technical glitches surrounding the overwhelmed HealthCare.gov portal and other state online exchanges, the home stretch challenge looks to be one of public education.

Most don't know the deadline

Bankrate's new Health Insurance Pulse survey finds that fewer than half (45 percent) of those surveyed could correctly identify the March 31 deadline for satisfying the Obamacare individual mandate that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a tax fine.

And that's the good news. The work still ahead is illustrated by three other recent surveys:

• A survey of uninsured Americans by Enroll America, a coalition working in support of the Affordable Care Act, finds that 70 percent of respondents were unaware that federal subsidies are available through the exchanges to make health insurance affordable.
• An Urban Institute survey of the uninsured shows that many respondents don't believe they qualify for federal premium tax credits, reduced out-of-pocket expenses or even Medicaid.
• A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation poll finds that fewer than 40 percent of insured adults expect to obtain health insurance coverage this year.

Foundation spokeswoman Katherine Hempstead put the next two months in perspective this way: "The survey respondents' relative lack of knowledge about the availability of free or subsidized health insurance illustrates the need for increased outreach. People should know that help is available so they can get high-quality, affordable health care."

To which I can only add: Pass the word.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.

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