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High satisfaction levels with Obamacare as 2017 prices emerge

If they like their Obamacare plan, maybe they'll stay in their Obamacare plan.

A new survey of people who have purchased Obamacare insurance or enrolled in Medicaid shows relatively high levels of satisfaction with their coverage, as proposed insurance prices for 2017 start to come out.

A total of 77 percent of people with private Obamacare plans and 88 percent of people on Medicaid said they are "very" or "somewhat satisfied" with their coverage, according to the Commonwealth Fund survey.

Those levels are 4 and 5 percentage points lower, respectively, than when people were questioned for a similar survey last year.

Among Obamacare customers, 66 percent rate the coverage as good, very good or excellent. A total of 77 percent of Medicaid enrollees gave it such high marks. Again, these results represented a slight decline from the results in last year's Commonwealth Fund survey.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden

The study also found that 3 out of 5 adults who have Obamacare or Medicaid and who had used their coverage said they would not have previously been able to access or afford that care.

"The findings suggest that Affordable Care Act coverage is good coverage, comparable to the coverage most Americans have through an employer." -Dr. David Blumenthal, president, Commonwealth Fund

And, "majorities of new enrollees are getting doctor's appointments in a timely fashion," be it with a primary care doctor or specialist, said Dr. David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund.

Blumenthal said the survey shows that "the Affordable Care Act is working as it was designed to, specifically to help people get the care they need."

"The findings suggest that Affordable Care Act coverage is good coverage, comparable to the coverage most Americans have through an employer," he said.

The survey questioned 4,802 adults, 881 of whom have Obamacare or Medicaid coverage. The survey had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

Blumenthal's comparison to employer-based health coverage appears warranted, based on another recent survey, conducted by Deloitte, of American health-care consumers. That report found that more than half, 53 percent, of Obamacare exchange customers said they were satisfied with their health plan, about the same level as the 54 percent of people who said that about their job-based insurance plan.

The results, which echo recent research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, come as 2017 prices for Obamacare plans are being disclosed by insurers.

The proposed price hikes so far have been significantly higher, on a percentage basis, than in past years. But Obamacare advocates are hoping that satisfaction with the plans among many customers, along with often generous government subsidies, will help keep them enrolled in the program.

The Affordable Care Act was enacted to expand health coverage among the millions of uninsured Americans.

The ACA imposed a requirement that most people have some form of health insurance or pay a tax penalty. At the same time, the law authorized the creation of government-run marketplaces to sell subsidized health plans to people, and also provided significant funding for states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover more poor adults than they had previously.

The health-care reform law has been credited with dramatically lowering the rate of people without health insurance in the United States since its enactment. According to the most recent data, released last week, since 2011 the uninsured rate has fallen 6 percentage points to 9.1 percent, the lowest level on record.

According to the Commonwealth Fund's survey, 45 percent of the people who purchased insurance through the Obamacare marketplaces were previously uninsured. Sixty-two percent of the people in Medicaid said they had been without insurance before they enrolled.

More than half of the previously uninsured had gone without insurance for more than two years before buying an Obamacare plan or enrolling in Medicaid, the survey found.

"Overall, they seem to be enjoying, or be happy with their plans," said Sara Collins, vice president of health-care coverage and access at the Commonwealth Fund.

But Collins noted that a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, which also measured satisfaction levels among Obamacare customers, found that those people were less happy about the price of those plans.

The Kaiser survey found that while 68 percent of those customers rated their current coverage as either "excellent or good," just 59 percent said they were satisfied with their monthly premiums, which is the money they must pay to maintain their coverage.

And only 51 percent of Obamacare enrollees were satisfied with their deductibles, which are the amounts that people must personally pay for medical services before their plans cover the remainder.

"Since 2014, the share saying they are satisfied with their plan's premiums and deductibles have declined, while the share saying that they are dissatisfied has increased," Kaiser said when the report was released last week.

More than 80 percent of Obamacare marketplace customers receive some subsidy to help reduce the cost of their monthly premiums. Also, more than half also have their out-of-pocket medical costs subsidized by the federal government.

The premium subsidies are available to people whose household income is between one and four times the federal poverty level, which for a family of four in 2016 is between $24,300 and $97,200.

The cost-sharing subsidies are available to people who earn between 1 and 2 ½ times the poverty level — $24,300 to $60,750 for a family of four — if they enroll in a so-called silver plan, the most popular option on Obamacare exchanges.

The subsidies are not available to people who buy individual health plans outside the exchanges.