Healthcare: Uninsured sit on sidelines as sign-up season ends

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WASHINGTON >> Most uninsured Americans are sitting on the sidelines as sign-up season under the federal health law comes to a close, according to a new poll that signals the nation's historic gains in coverage are slowing.

The survey released Thursday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation finds that:

• Only 15 percent of the uninsured know this year's open enrollment deadline is Sunday.

• More than 7 in 10 say they have not tried to figure out if they qualify for the two main coverage expansions in the law, Medicaid and subsidized private health insurance.

• Only 1 in 100 know the minimum penalty for being uninsured is going up to $695 in 2016.

• About two-thirds say they have not been contacted about signing up for coverage.

"What this survey does suggest is that it will get harder and harder to continue to make gains in the share of people getting health insurance," said Mollyann Brodie, Kaiser's polling director. "I think we will be in a period where we will see slower and slower gains in that number."

Strong finish possible

Nonetheless, administration officials said Thursday they are confident of a strong finish to sign-up season this weekend. Thirty-five states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website are ahead of where they were at the same point last year, said Andy Slavitt, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

More than 14 percent of Americans were uninsured in 2013 before the big coverage expansion under President Barack Obama's health care law. That share dropped to 9 percent last year, according to the government.

Now, those historic gains could be stalling out. It's raising questions about the lasting impact of Obama's signature legislation, and spurring liberals like Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to call for guaranteed coverage for all.

The health law's problems in part reflect entrenched political opposition, but there's also skepticism about whether the coverage is affordable for uninsured people of modest means. Premiums are up, and those who get sick can face significant out-of-pocket costs. Major health insurer Anthem said Wednesday it booked fewer customers than expected last year through the health care law.

The poll found that nearly half the uninsured (46 percent) have been without coverage for two years or longer.

The Kaiser poll is the second independent survey to raise questions recently. Earlier this month, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that the law's progress stalled last year. The share of U.S. adults without health insurance was 11.9 percent in the last three months of 2015, according to Gallup, essentially unchanged from the start of the year.

Online insurance markets like HealthCare.gov offer taxpayer-subsidized private plans to people who don't have coverage on the job. Sunday is the sign-up deadline.


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