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Americans are still clueless about health reform three years later

Consumer Reports News: March 22, 2013 04:07 PM

You have to hand it to the foes of the Affordable Care Act. They've been hugely successful at "educating" the public on all the unpopular parts, including some that don't even exist. Meanwhile, public awareness of the law's popular provisions, such as the end to pre-existing-condition exclusions and subsidies to help people afford health insurance, has actually dropped in the three years since it was signed into law on March 23, 2010, according to a new tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

I'm not surprised by any of this because many of the questions that arrive daily in my "Ask Nancy" mailbox reflect the same misconceptions found in the Kaiser survey. For instance, a number of people have written asking when and where they might buy the "public plan" created by the health reform law. (Alternatively, they complain about how government-run health care will ruin America). No such plan exists, but 57 percent of the people polled by Kaiser thought it did.

For more information, see our health insurance buying guide and rankings of health insurance plans.
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Another example: Only 62 percent of respondents were aware that starting in 2014, low- and moderate-income individuals will get financial subsidies to help them buy insurance. Three years ago, 76 percent of respondents to the same poll knew this.

Meanwhile, 74 percent knew the law will penalize people who don't have health insurance, an unpopular (but necessary) provision, compared to 71 percent who knew about this in 2010.

I also continue to get questions about viral e-mails claiming that the law will cut Medicare benefits or set up government panels to deny treatment to the elderly. The Kaiser poll sheds some light on this: more people thought these two nonexistent provisions of the law were true than not true.

You can't blame busy people for not grasping the many parts of this complex law, especially considering that the major parts haven't even gone into effect yet. But it's going to bring huge changes to our system starting this fall, so it's time to study up.

Two good places to start are Consumer Reports' free, downloadable guides to health reform and Medicare and the federal government's great consumer site,

Oh, and one more thing. Asked whether the nation's health care costs were going up about the same as usual, faster than usual, or slower than usual, 58 percent said "faster than usual." Only 4 percent chose the correct answer: "slower than usual." Good news travels . . . slowly?

Nancy Metcalf

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