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'Obamacare' survey finds feelings about ACA are at a high — for better or for worse

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The latest monthly survey of U.S. attitudes toward the Affordable Care Act found both negative and positive sentiments have hit a high point, and the majority doesn't expect smooth sailing when the second year of enrollment in Obamacare health plans begins Nov. 15 on HealthCare.gov.

Nearly half of Americans are spending more on health care now than a year ago, according to the survey by Bankrate.com, which has conducted it since last August. And 46 percent said higher prices for health plans could be a major problem in the next open enrollment period.

Most Americans are not directly impacted by the ACA, since they either get health coverage at work or are covered by Medicare or Medicaid, so their views on “Obamacare” are formed by what they are hearing about the law, noted Doug Whiteman, Bankrate.com insurance analyst.

But when asked about their health care expenses, survey respondents are reporting on their own personal experience — and 45 percent said they are spending more on health care than a year ago, while only 8 percent are spending less, Whiteman said.

“This is really in line with what we have seen all along since we started the survey last August: Many people say they are seeing higher health care costs despite the promise of lower costs,” Whiteman said.

He said it could be that consumers with employer-sponsored coverage find their copayments have gone up or their employer has increased the employee contribution to the health plan: “These could be some reasons why 45 percent of the general population is telling us their health care costs are increasing.”

Whiteman added: “At the same time, maybe the Obama administration is having trouble getting Americans to believe that the ACA is indeed making health care more affordable. But certainly they are trying.”

He noted that the Obama administration reported that, of the Americans who bought health plans on the ACA exchanges for 2014, half of those who qualified for subsidized plans are paying $50 a month or less for coverage.

“I just have to wonder if these messages are getting through to the general public, if people are hearing this,” Whiteman said.

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The government reported in June that New Jerseyans are paying an average of $148 a month, after government subsidies, for health plans purchased on the new Affordable Care Act Marketplace that launched Oct. 1 on HealthCare.gov.

While that’s higher than the national numbers, New Jerseyans did see a 68 percent average reduction in premiums as a result of the federal subsidies under the ACA. Before the tax credit, the average premium for New Jerseyans was $465 a month. The tax credits knocked $317 off that premium, on average, according to federal Department of Health and Human Services, which reported that 84 percent of New Jerseyans who bought a plan on HealthCare.gov received a government subsidy.

The subsidies are on a sliding scale, up to four times the poverty level, which is about $93,000 for a family of four.

Most Americans, 56 percent, are not confident the Obamacare exchanges will operate smoothly during this fall’s open enrollment period.

Whiteman said: “I think that obviously shows that consumers have not forgotten about the glitches and the error messages that we saw last fall. It would seem that the bungled rollout last year of the exchanges has cast a long shadow.”

Whiteman also said one finding that has been consistent throughout the past year of monthly surveys by Bankrate.com is that “people are not well informed; they are not getting good information about Obamacare. They are not hearing the messages out there, and they don’t know where to get information.”

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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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