Continued public confusion about “Obamacare”

A survey conducted earlier this year by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the public remains poorly informed about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and about healthcare in general.

For example, in the past few years healthcare costs have been rising at a much slower rate than previously, but most people surveyed think the opposite is true.

Except for the so-called individual mandate, all the major features of the law attract majority support. Here are the percentages favoring the provisions in question:

  • 88 Tax credits to small businesses to buy insurance
  • 81 Closing Medicare prescription drug coverage “doughnut hole”
  • 80 Exchanges to help the uninsured easily compare private insurance options
  • 76 Allowing children to stay on parents’ health insurance until age 26
  • 76 Helping low- and middle-income people afford insurance
  • 71 Expanding Medicaid to cover more very-low-income people
  • 66 Stopping companies for denying or canceling coverage based on medical history
  • 65 Requiring insurance companies to spend at least a minimum percentage of their budgets on healthcare
  • 60 Raising Medicare tax on very high incomes
  • 57 Penalizing large employers that don’t insure their workers
  • 40 Somewhat higher taxes for people who go without insurance

I suspect support for some of these things would be even higher if people had more information. For example, the vast majority of large employers already provide health insurance for their employees, so very few will be affected by the penalties, which won’t go into effect until 2015 anyway. Claims that businesses will cut hours to avoid buying insurance seem overblown. Businesses employing fewer than 50 won’t be penalized at all, but they will get a tax break to encourage them to insure their workers.

While about 2/3 support requiring insurance companies to spend a minimum percentage of their budgets on actual healthcare or else refund the difference to their customers, only 40 realize that the law does this. Just 46 percent realize that the law closes the Medicare “doughnut hole” (and I’d bet even fewer know about other expanded Medicare benefits). More than half — but just barely — realize that small businesses that insure their employees get tax credits and that insurance companies will be required to insure people with preexisting conditions.

Moreover, substantial numbers believe that the law does things that it doesn’t and some aren’t sure. For example, only 44% realize that the law does not cut Medicare benefits. (Almost as many — 43% — think it does, and another 14% aren’t sure.) This confusion is understandable given the constant stream of outright lies about it, but in reality the ACA only reduces the future growth in certain payments to doctors and hospitals (without which Medicare would go bankrupt). In terms of actual Medicare benefits, the law actually expands them, from closing the previously mentioned “doughnut hole” in prescription coverage to encouraging more preventive care by covering 100% of the costs.

Depressingly, 39% still believe the ridiculous lie that there are “death panels,” and another 21% aren’t sure. Only 40% realize it isn’t true.

It’s encouraging to note that nearly half — 47% — do at least realize that the law doesn’t help people in the country illegally. I’d have expected more to have fallen for the propaganda.

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