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Uninsured still largely unaware of Obamacare deadline: Survey

Sixty percent of uninsured people remain unaware that next Monday is the deadline to enroll in some kind of health plan to avoid Obamacare's tax penalty—and many won't bother getting such coverage even in the face of that fine, a new survey shows.

Half of the uninsured respondents to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey said they will remain uninsured this year, the first year the Affordable Care Act mandates that nearly all Americans obtain health coverage or pay a fine of up to 1 percent of their taxable income. That's despite the fact that 66 percent of the uninsured are aware of the fine.

The survey also found while overall public opinion about Obamacare remains unfavorable, the gap between people opposed to the law and in favor of it has shrunk significantly, from 16 percentage points when the question was asked in January to just 8 percentage points as of this month.

The Kaiser Family Foundation survey results were announced as the Obama administration said it would grant an effective extension of next Monday's enrollment deadline to people who claim to have experienced technical problems in signing up on the federal Obamacare exchange, HealthCare.gov.

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That extension comes as President Barack Obama and other officials engage in a concerted public relations push to get people, particularly uninsured people, to enroll in health insurance by Monday's deadline.

People check health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act at the Mall of the Americas on March 20, 2014, in Miami.
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People check health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act at the Mall of the Americas on March 20, 2014, in Miami.

Liz Hamel, director of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that effort may be responsible for increased awareness of the deadline among the uninsured since February, the last time the question was asked in the tracking survey.

In February, only 24 percent of the uninsured respondents were aware of the March 31 deadline. That grew to 39 percent in March.

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Hamel said that 44 percent of the uninsured respondents in February said they didn't plan on obtaining insurance this year. Although the percentage grew to 50 percent in March, Hamel said the increase didn't appear to be statistically significant, based on the sample size and margin of error.

Forty percent of uninsured respondents said they plan on getting health coverage this year.

Hamel noted that just 57 percent of the uninsured knew that government subsidies were available to poor and moderate-income people to help offset the cost of insurance purchased on Obamacare exchanges. And only 49 percent knew that states have the option to expand Medicaid coverage to more of their poorer residents than previously.

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Getting uninsured people affordable health coverage is a primary goal of Obamacare. But a recent survey by McKinsey found that of the respondents who selected a new insurance plan in 2014, either on an Obamacare exchange or elsewhere, only 27 percent reported having been previously uninsured.

And even if the majority of the 6 million people the administration hopes to enroll via Obamacare exchanges by the end of this month turn out to have been previously uninsured, there will still be tens of millions of people without any health coverage this year.

"Everybody knew that all of the uninsured were not going to sign up in the first year," Hamel said.

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