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Survey: Obamacare remains hugely unpopular

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    New Jerseyans are split on Obamacare.
    New Jerseyans are split on Obamacare. - (File photo)

    Obamacare is unpopular with the majority of Americans, and the negative sentiment rises with income, according to the latest Bankrate.com survey.

    The survey periodically tracks the national mood toward the Affordable Care Act, which went into full swing this year — and has helped cut the number of uninsured New Jerseyans by about 400,000.

    According to Bankrate.com, 43 percent of Americans believe the ACA has had a mostly negative impact on the country, and 21 percent say it hasn’t made much of an impact at all.

    Only 28 percent say the ACA has had a mostly positive impact. Negative sentiment increases with income, while the ACA is more popular among those with annual household income under $30,000.

    “These findings indicate that more than seven in 10 Americans don’t feel like Obamacare has been worth it,” according to Bankrate.com insurance analyst Doug Whiteman.

    Perceptions aside, the reality is that the ACA is helping to substantially reduce the number of New Jerseyans who don’t have health insurance, estimated at more than 1 million before the ACA was passed by Congress in 2010.

    A study released last week by the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that uninsurance among New Jersey adults aged 18 to 64 declined from 21.2 percent in September 2013 to 13.2 percent in March 2014, bringing the current level of uninsurance to its lowest level since 1990.  

    “The ACA clearly has benefited thousands of New Jersey residents, reaching over 400,000 previously uninsured individuals,” said Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy. But, while getting 400,000 people covered sounds like a lot, Cantor noted that the newly covered only represent about 5 percent of the state’s population.  

    Cantor said the Bankrate.com survey results were not surprising.

    For while the ACA has helped low-income Jerseyans join Medicaid and provided government subsidies for low- and moderate-income residents to buy policies on HealthCare.gov, “Most of the rest of us may not have noticed tangible benefits from the ACA,” Cantor said.

    In addition, Raymond Castro, senior policy analyst at the Trenton think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, said: "A number of polls have found that a majority of Americans have problems or concerns with the ACA. The more probing surveys, however (including the Rutgers-Eagleton poll of New Jerseyans), have found that a significant number who have problems with ACA believe that it did not go far enough in reforming the health care system. When you add them to those who support the ACA, it becomes clear that a majority of Americans do not want the ACA repealed, but instead want legislators to fix those problems and make it work better."

    When it comes to polling, it also matters how the questions are asked.

    “In fact, most polls that ask general questions about ‘the Affordable Care Act’ get split opinions or skew negative,” Cantor said. “However, polls that ask about specific components of the ACA, such as whether Medicaid eligibility should be expanded or insurance companies be required to issue coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions, reviews are generally positive. The big exception, of course, is the mandate to buy coverage, which remains unpopular.”

    Under the ACA’s “individual mandate,” most U.S. citizens and legal residents must have health coverage this year, or pay a penalty.

    Whiteman said the ACA was hurt by the botched rollout last October of HealthCare.gov. And he said the survey “probably also demonstrates how the negative political messages by the law’s opponents are having an impact.”

    He noted that most Americans get health insurance through their employer, and “for the most part those people have not been directly affected by the law.”

    He said at the lowest income levels, under $30,000 a year, “people were most likely to say that the impact of the law has been positive.  That does suggest that more of the poor, who are the most directly impacted by the ACA, might be recognizing that the law is helping them.”

    Castro agreed: "Given the much higher than expected enrollment of people who are enrolling in the Marketplace, it is clear that the law is very popular with people who need this help, which bodes well for more public support of the new law in the future."

    The survey addressed a widespread view that if the ACA enables people to buy affordable coverage at HealthCare.gov, they won’t need coverage from their employer and will be more likely to switch jobs or retire early.

    “In our survey, about a quarter of the respondents thought that this sounded like a good idea,” Whiteman said. “They said they might be more likely to change jobs or retire early if they could find affordable health insurance. So I think that suggests that we may indeed see lots of people looking for new options for their lives if they don’t have to stay locked in a job for the health care coverage.”

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    Beth Fitzgerald

    Beth Fitzgerald

    Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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