Almost Half The Uninsured Still Don’t Know They Owe An Obamacare Penalty

Sarah Hurtubise | Reporter

Close to half of uninsured adults are still unaware that Obamacare’s individual mandate will fine them for not buying health insurance, according to a Thursday poll from the Urban Institute.

As of Dec. 2014, 25 percent of uninsured Americans above the poverty line said they’d heard “nothing at all” about the fine. Another 20 percent said they had heard “only a little.” A slight majority, 53 percent, reported hearing some or a lot about the tax (which the Obama administration calls the “individual shared responsibility payment”).

Americans who were uninsured last year will have to pay the penalty for the first time this tax season. The penalty for going uninsured in 2014 was $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater — but this year, that penalty has grown to $325 or 2 percent of income.

Although Obamacare, and especially the individual mandate, has topped headlines for years, the law’s advocates have struggled to reach all of those affected by the penalty. The ongoing lack of awareness has already prompted a group of congressional Democrats to urge the Obama administration to re-open Obamacare enrollment around the tax filing deadline in April, when more people will find out that they owe money.

The individual mandate has never been popular. Rasmussen Reports found Monday that a plurality of Americans, 47 percent, still oppose the policy, up slightly since the end of 2014. The public’s distaste for the requirement could cause another backlash against the health-care law when people are required to pay the penalty for the first time come April.

Health and Human Services secretary Sylvia Burwell has said that she’ll decide in the next several weeks whether to offer the special enrollment period for the 37 states that are using HealthCare.gov. Three states — Washington, Minnesota and Vermont — have already extended their sign-up periods through tax season.

Pushing back enrollment deadlines may only help slightly, however. The Urban Institute also found that almost 30 percent of uninsured adults above the poverty line hadn’t even heard of Obamacare exchanges. Over 35 percent either did not know when the deadline to sign up for exchange coverage was or thought it was in March.

The deadline passed Feb. 15, but the federal government extended HealthCare.gov’s deadline to Feb. 22 for anyone who “attests” they tried to access the federal website or call centers but couldn’t due to tech glitches or long wait times.

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