Thursday, August 29, 2013

Health Insurance Dummies

Let's face it: most of the public does not understand health insurance. That's the finding of a Carnegie Mellon University economist who quizzed Americans on the meaning of common health insurance terms such as co-pay, co-insurance, and deductible. Only 14 percent could answer the four questions on the simple test correctly, according to the Washington Post.

With so little understanding of health insurance, asking the public what it thinks about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is an exercise in futility. Many pollsters are doing just that, however, and the answers are all over the place. According to the most recent Kaiser poll, only 37 percent of the public has a favorable view of the ACA. Yet the 51 percent majority says it doesn't have enough information about the law to understand how it will affect them. But 71 percent think the law won't affect them or that it will make things worse for them. Yet 57 percent live in a household in which someone has a pre-existing condition. Apparently, the public doesn't know that the Affordable Care Act will prevent insurance companies from denying insurance to those with pre-existing conditions. And so it goes.

The confusion about the Affordable Care Act springs from the fact that Americans are sheltered from health insurance realities. Only 8 percent purchase insurance on their own and know the difficulty of navigating the marketplace. Americans are health insurance dummies because most are shielded from the truth by employers and federal programs. Forty-eight percent get health insurance through an employer who pays the bulk of the premium. Another 16 percent are covered by Medicare, a program for the nation's elderly, many of whom are unaware that the federal government and the nation's taxpayers foot most of the bill.

Right now it doesn't matter what the public thinks about the Affordable Care Act, because the public doesn't know much. During the next few months, millions of Americans will be getting an education about health insurance. Once schooled, their opinions may start to matter.

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