Know the Health-Insurance Deadline? Most Don't

Fewer than half of Americans recognize the March 31 sign-up cutoff.
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In a survey out this morning, only 45 percent of Americans correctly identified March 31 as the deadline to purchase health insurance as required under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The rate of correct responses was lowest among the 18 to 29 age group, those who make less than $30,000, and those without college degrees. Sixty-two percent said they assumed that the deadline would be pushed back.

It might be surprising that people aren't better informed, given that those who miss the deadline will pay a tax penalty and be forced to wait until next year's open enrollment. NPR's Marketplace this morning discussed the role of laws in 17 states that prevent navigators from helping people to enroll and learn about things like this deadline. A federal judge blocked some such restrictions in Missouri last week, which may set a precedent for fewer limitations on navigators to spread information and facilitate enrollment. If healthy people don't sign up, premiums could rise for everyone.

Still these numbers don't sound terrible to some jaded experts. Mark Schlesinger, a professor of public health at Yale, told the surveyors that the 45 percent who correctly recognized the date is "a surprisingly high number, given people's normal complete inattentiveness to public affairs."

Along that line, you might remember it was just last April that a Kaiser Family Foundation survey highlighted widespread misunderstanding like that 50 percent of Americans thought the law gave healthcare subsidies to undocumented immigrants, and 40 percent thought the law set up "death panels." Then in October Jimmy Kimmel hilariously/unsettlingly caught a number of people endorsing the Affordable Care Act but not Obamacare.

Anyway, March 31. Here's a map of enrollment numbers so far:

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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