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Healthcare Reform

Americans Increasingly Unsure About Health Insurance Exchanges

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Maybe President Obama’s October 21 speech helped clear up some of the confusion  consumers have about buying health insurance.

According to data from a Harris Interactive Survey from August 2013, Americans are open to the idea of insurance exchanges, but aren’t too familiar with the concept. In fact, they seem to be less confident in their knowledge than last year.

The difference a year can make

Among 2,061 U.S. adults in 2013, only 10 percent said they were “very familiar” with Health Insurance Exchanges (HIX), down from 15 percent in 2012. More than 60 percent said they were not at all familiar with the exchanges, up from 46 percent last year.

When asked whether they would use an exchange to buy insurance, the percentages who said outright “yes” or “no” both decreased, while the “not sure” group expanded since 2012.

That could be because media coverage of the exchanges leading up to the October 1 launch date this year was increasingly niche punditry, predicting which aspects of the exchanges would be ready to go and which wouldn’t. Pieces of basic consumer-facing “news you can use” were few and far between. This NPR explainer wasn’t published until October 11.

Political hangups

Outside of media, the government became bogged down in political infighting, and shut itself down for more than two weeks. And while that shutdown didn’t affect the Affordable Care Act’s trajectory, it did sow a great deal of doubt in the minds of the public.

Before the marketplace opened, designated navigators were trained to help consumers, small businesses, and their employees sort through health coverage options  in the marketplace. This service is free of charge and includes completing eligibility and enrollment forms.

While the navigators are a great resource for dispensing useful information, they have been banned by some states, like Florida.

Where will they get their information?

That leaves an increasing number of questions about what the exchanges are, who needs to use them, and how to go about using them Some who tried to access Healthcare.gov have hit technical glitches and been further discouraged. So if they missed the President’s address on Monday, where will Americans get their HIX information?

The majority prefers info from exchanges via old-fashioned paper mail, as Kevin Walsh noted for us before. More than 50 percent preferred traditional mail, according to the survey, with email a close second (45 percent). A quarter preferred TV, print or Internet ads, and only fractions wanted phone calls, text messages, or preferred that state exchanges didn’t communicate at all.

But when it comes to reaching out to get questions answered, the Internet won out. Almost 60 percent plan to check out an official website, and 36 percent will do a general Internet search. About a third said they will seek out a designated contact center or state agency, the survey found.

These findings underscore the power of websites, and adds even more pressure to the Healthcare.gov development team to improve the user experience.