With the open enrollment for health insurance coverage beginning on November 15, the Obama administration has long been involved in field testing the Healthcare.gov website to avoid the technical hiccups that occurred last year. However, the biggest challenge for officials may not be making the website work, but getting maximum number of customers to shop in the first place. Even though the Obama administration is attempting to nearly double the number of people registered and is expecting a better sign-up experience for the ACA plans during the second annual enrollment period in November – the question that remains is how many uninsured Americans know about the open enrollment deadline?

According to a new Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, about nine out of 10 (that is 89 percent) uninsured people are quite unaware of the fact that open enrollment begins in November or any time soon. This shocking figure includes 76% people who do not know when open enrollment begins and another 13% who name a start date other than November 2014.

As per reports from The New York Times, despite huge efforts by the government and insurance industry to publicize this important deadline, about two-thirds of uninsured survey respondents revealed that they knew "only a little" or "nothing at all" about the Obamacare insurance exchanges where they can purchase health benefit plans with the help of federal subsidies.

Experts Hope the Number of New Enrollees Will Increase

The officials in the healthcare domain feel that "Having just no specific idea about enrollment deadline is quite shocking at this point because unlike last year, the shopping period for marketplace plans is just 3 months". Therefore new enrollees who plan to buy policies need to sign up for their plans between November 15 and February 15 or else they will have to wait for another one year. The experts in this field anticipate that this number will increase considerably as we get closer to the open enrollment date.

Under the ACA, most Americans are required to obtain medical insurance or else pay a fine. Despite countless technical problems, more than 8 million people succeeded in choosing medical plans on the new website last year. As per the latest count from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), approximately 7.3 million people are currently enrolled and it is estimated that about 13 million people will be fully covered by the end of this enrollment date. This huge number of enrollees will make an equally huge impact on healthcare providers, increasing their responsibilities towards patients as well as their office processes such as medical billing for services provided. It also calls for a more stringent insurance verification process to ensure that patients indeed have coverage for the services provided.

Americans with low income (about $27,000 for a family of three) who happen to qualify for Medicaid can sign up for health plans at any time. On the other hand, the open enrollment is applicable to everyone else who doesn’t experience a major life change (like losing job or getting divorced) during the year. In order to sign up for the same it is important that eligible people know that these options are available.

As part of the survey, information was collected from about 1,503 adults between October 8-14. The key findings of the survey include –

  • About half of people are unaware about the financial assistance available to help low and moderate income people to purchase insurance.
  • About 56% Americans said that the health law did not create any direct impact on their families. On the other hand, out of those people who had been reported impacted – 26% say that the law has hurt them and 16% say that it has helped them.
  • For the uninsured group, nearly half of them had no insurance for about 2 years.
  • About 18% of people choose to remain uninsured as they were not able to find a suitable and affordable plan. More than 12% say that they will buy insurance as they don’t want to be forced to buy anything (including 3% who declare that they would rather pay the fine than pay for coverage).

Spreading Awareness about Health Benefit Plans is Crucial

For the healthcare exchanges to function well, it is crucial for people (many of them with only a high-school education) to have excellent technical know-how about the different healthcare plans and choose individual plans diligently. Before choosing any specific plan, it is essential to compare premiums, drug plans, networks and cost sharing of dozens of different policies every year. This will in turn lower the risk of making bad purchases.

However, experts in this field who evaluated the uninsured group found that the first wave of enrollees were probably the most aware and responsive group in the United States. Spreading more awareness among the uninsured group remains a big challenge as many of them have remained without any insurance for long and have only vague knowledge and understanding about the healthcare system. In fact, many people did not even speak English as their first language. Those who remain without coverage are fundamentally harder to reach than those who enrolled in the first enrollment period. But this doesn’t necessarily imply that they cannot be convinced at all. Those people who remain uninsured will certainly recognize the need and benefits of coverage once they fully understand how Obamacare works in the real sense.