Low-Income Americans STILL Uneducated About Obamacare

Holy Cow. You’ll probably find this hard to believe, but a recent report finds that a huge percentage of low-income individuals are STILL unaware of their options under the Affordable Care Act.

A new Harvard University study reports that both advertising and state policy choices appear “to have had major impacts on enrollment experiences among low-income adults and their perceptions of the ACA,” which makes sense.

What doesn’t really make sense is that even in states like Kentucky, “which expanded Medicaid, created a successful state Marketplace, and supported outreach efforts,” awareness of the law remains surprisingly low. As Kaiser Health News explains, “about half of poor people say they have heard little about the Affordable Care Act.” The numbers are even worse in in other states: “55 percent of those Texans and 57 percent of those Arkansans had heard little or nothing about the law’s extension of health coverage.”

How is that even possible? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?

One explanation for the confusion about the law is that people are hearing conflicting messages from supporters and opponents of the Affordable Care Act – they don’t know what to believe. In Texas, for instance, “competing with the governor and Republicans who constantly bash the law” has been what Mimi Garcia with Enroll America calls “an uphill battle.”

Another explanation for the lack of awareness, according to the study’s lead author Benjamin Sommers, “is that many poor people lead busy lives and don’t make health insurance a priority when they are healthy.”

While this is certainly troubling, it is possible to get the word out about the law, as we learn from South Florida’s super-high enrollment numbers. But it’s not easy.

One thing brokers and others who want to locate and enroll more low-income individuals and families need to realize is that many of the working poor are not offered health coverage through their employer, either because the company doesn’t offer health insurance or because they work one or more part-time jobs and are ineligible for the employer-sponsored plan.

Brokers have a couple opportunities to reach these individuals. One is by working with employers that don’t offer coverage at all to spread the word. Because many of a company’s employees might be in a similar financial position, it makes sense to do an informational meeting for all employees who might benefit from the subsidies available to low-income individuals. This sort of education, provided by a licensed agent, wouldn’t cost the employer a cent and could be a huge benefit for the employees, who could call the broker’s toll-free private exchange number and talk with a licensed agent if they’d like to learn more or apply for financial assistance.

The second opportunity is to work with companies that already offer health insurance but that have some employees who don’t qualify for coverage. Because the agent wouldn’t be bidding on the group insurance, he wouldn’t be a threat to the existing agent.

As we all know, the subsidies were designed to help low-income individuals without job-based coverage get health insurance, but these are the same folks who know the least about the law. It’s an insurance agent’s job to find and educate these individuals, but this does require some creativity and, just as importantly, some great time management skills. And the more time an agent can free up by using technology and enrollment support, the more people he can help.

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