WASHINGTON — Politicians bring it up continually. Groups have spent millions of dollars promoting — and denouncing — it on television. President Barack Obama is out lauding it virtually every week.
Yet Americans are stubbornly confounded about the federal health-care law known as the Affordable Care Act and derided by critics as Obamacare.
“Never heard,” said Lenard Pringle, 54, a Greenbelt, Md. resident who said he was not aware of any changes coming to the health-care system. He did not know that in a few months, he will be eligible for Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor that is expanding under the law.
He is not alone. More than six in 10 Americans say they do not have the information necessary to understand the changes the law will bring, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The results underscore the tough job that lies ahead for the administration, which aims to coax 7 million uninsured people to sign up for coverage by the end of March. This summer, many of its allies embarked on public relations campaigns meant to educate people that they can sign up for health-care plans and perhaps qualify for government assistance starting in the fall.
The confusion stretches across age, race, gender, party affiliation and income groups, according to the poll. It also cuts across geography, which is significant because some states are promoting the law more actively than others.
White House officials say it is not surprising that people are confused, because health insurance is confusing and specific information about policies and rates will not be available until Oct. 1, when open enrollment begins. People will then have six months to comply with the requirement that virtually every American have coverage or pay a fine.
Chris Jennings, White House coordinator for health-care reform, said the administration will begin its big public information push after Oct. 1 so people can find out online how the law will affect them.
“People engage when they need to take action,” Jennings said in a statement. “Their lives are very busy, they have many other priorities in the here and now, and when they engage they want to have the information necessary to make an informed choice.”
According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, awareness of the health insurance marketplaces is relatively low, with 51 percent of respondents knowing they will be available. That percentage shrinks to 44 percent in states where the government is not actively promoting the law.
The lack of awareness is prevalent among those who would be affected most greatly, according to Pew, which found that only half of the uninsured were aware of the exchanges or the subsidies for low-income people.
Advocates say some of the confusion could arise from the fact that the marketplaces are not necessarily being promoted as the Affordable Care Act or informally as Obamacare. In Oregon, for instance, health officials this summer mounted a whimsical $3.2 million television ad campaign that never mentioned the federal law. Rather, it used the state’s quirky music scene to promote state pride and good health, and to drive people to the marketplace’s website and hot line.
“We’re building a product that’s for Oregonians and by Oregonians,” said Amy Fauver, spokeswoman for Cover Oregon. “We don’t really need to get involved in the national political debate about the Affordable Care Act.”