By Rose Hoban
Although the rollout of healthcare.gov – the website for purchasing health insurance through the Affordable Care Act – has been a public relations nightmare, with multiple website glitches and crashes, the bumpy debut has had one positive effect for advocates of the new health care law: More people know about it.
That’s one of the few positive findings from a pair of national surveys out this week examining attitudes about the Affordable Care Act.
According to a survey by the Transamerica Center for Health Studies, people who are uninsured are the least informed and the least prepared for the upcoming coverage mandate, which kicks in next year.
But a larger number of uninsured know about the law, commonly known as Obamacare, than did this summer, when the center did an earlier survey.
“What normally would have been a boring bureaucratic story got a lot of attention,” said Hector De La Torre, head of the Transamerica Center for Health Studies, a private not-for-profit largely funded by the Transamerica Life Insurance Company.
“Starting in September, with politics on Capitol Hill, leading into the healthcare.gov launch and the government shutdown and all that ongoing drama, I think it has raised the profile above and beyond what folks would hear about otherwise,” he said.
The poll surveyed more than a thousand health insurance consumers nationwide, including people on Medicaid and veterans who receive care at VA hospitals.
People who were uninsured still had “more questions than answers” about Obamacare, with only 35 percent saying they were “very” or “somewhat” prepared for the ACA, up slightly from 30 percent in July.
Almost a third of uninsured people (31 percent) surveyed hadn’t even heard about the new health insurance marketplaces, even as two-thirds (66 percent) of those same people said they were dissatisfied with the health care they are able to get.
In contrast, the rate of people with insurance who said they were dissatisfied with the health care system was only 16 percent; that included patients with either private or public insurance such as Medicaid.
But what De La Torre said really caught his attention was data about people with pre-existing conditions, about one in three people. He said about a third of those people have been uninsured, with the rest “making it work somehow.”
The survey found many people with pre-existing conditions stand to gain insurance under Obamacare, which has outlawed the insurance-industry practice of denying coverage to those with prior medical conditions.
“If they work for a large employer, they’d be in a pool and their pre-existing condition would not come into play,” De La Torre said. “That really only comes into play if you’re [with] a small-employer or individual [plan].”
About a third of the uninsured respondents said they had been priced out or blocked out of buying insurance in the past because of their health conditions. That group expressed optimism that they finally would be able to buy insurance for themselves.
North Carolinians, businesses dissatisfied
While De La Torre did not ask whether people approved of Obamacare, he found that about 5 percent of respondents said they planned to simply pay the penalty for not getting insurance.
“We don’t really get a whole lot into attitudes or opinions. It’s more what do you know and how did you know it, and what do you plan to do,” he said.
But pollsters in North Carolina have asked about attitudes toward Obamacare. In November, a poll done by Elon University found that about 54 percent of North Carolinians disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, with approval ratings breaking down along party lines.
And a new survey out from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business finds that the chief financial officers of businesses are bearish on Obamacare.
Each quarter for the past 17 years, the Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey has asked more than a thousand CFOs from around the world about their outlook for the coming year. Four hundred of those businesses are in the United States.
Survey head John Graham said the survey pointed to a more detrimental and potentially long-lasting problem than the botched website rollout.
“An unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act will be a reduction in fulltime employment growth in the United States,” wrote Graham, who is a professor of finance at the Fuqua School.
He found that about half of the nation’s CFOs said they were reluctant to hire fulltime employees because of the new law, and 40 percent of them said they would consider switching some employees to less than 30 hours a week to avoid paying for their insurance.
“I doubt the advocates of this legislation would have foretold the negative impact on employment,” said Campbell R. Harvey, another professor of finance at Fuqua.
Harvey was the founding director of the survey. He said respondents also said that about 44 percent of CFOs said they would consider reducing health benefits for workers in response to the ACA.
Nonetheless, the CFOs were bullish on the economy as a whole, with more than half saying economic conditions would be better for their firms in 2014, and they expected earnings to rise by 10 percent on strong profits.