Article Topics: survey: Americans with individual health insurance endorse health care reform

With President Obama’s re-election, the federal health care reform law is all but guaranteed to remain on the books. However, Americans have differing opinions on what the law will mean for them.

A survey commissioned by shows more U.S. adults who have individual health insurance indicated that they completely support federal health care reform than Americans as a whole.

The survey was conducted online from Sept. 25-27, 2012, by Harris Interactive on behalf of among nearly 2,500 American adults 18 and older. They were asked what kind of health insurance they have and how much it costs. The survey also gathered opinions about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which became law in 2010, although many of the law’s changes to the U.S. health care system aren’t supposed to take effect until 2014.

In the survey, 46 percent of U.S. adults said they have employer-sponsored health insurance. Meanwhile, 18 percent said they are on Medicare, 14 percent don’t have health insurance at all, 7 percent have Medicaid, 6 percent said “other” and 1 percent said COBRA (which offers continuation of insurance after leaving a job).

Nine percent of U.S. adults said they bought individual health insurance on their own on the open market, rather than getting coverage through work or a government program. It’s those Americans who will be affected most by certain provisions of the health care reform law, experts say.

health-care-reform-surveyJeffrey Ingalls, president of The Stratford Financial Group, an insurance consulting and brokerage firm specializing in employee benefits, says the ban on insurers denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions – a part of the health care reform law that will take effect in 2014 – will help those with individual health insurance.

On the other hand, he says, the law mandates that individuals buy coverage and requires health insurance plans to offer a minimum level of benefits. And that could mean those who don’t qualify for financial help from the government will end up paying more for health care.

Costs and individual health insurance

Current health insurance costs especially concern those with individual insurance, who tend to pay more for fewer benefits than people who obtain insurance through work. How much are they paying? The survey shows that for many households, the average monthly cost exceeds a typical car or rent payment.

Among U.S. adults who currently have individual health insurance and are responsible for paying the health insurance in household, almost half (47 percent) said they pay more than $300 a month in health insurance for themselves and others in their households. Twenty-seven percent said they pay more than $550, while 15 percent pay more than $800.

On the lower end of the spectrum, 40 percent pay $200 or less, 23 percent pay $120 or less and 8 percent pay $60 or less.

Even if premiums are fairly low, consumers with individual insurance often end up paying more out of pocket when they get sick than people with employer-sponsored insurance, says John Rother, president and CEO of the nonprofit National Coalition on Health Care. “Individual insurance is usually not very adequate in terms of coverage,” he says.

The fear of rising costs

The survey showed many Americans were afraid that a second Obama term would continue the trend of rising health care costs.

U.S. adults were split over how a second Obama term would affect health care costs and premiums, with 52 percent of U.S. adults who currently have individual health insurance and 44 percent of U.S. adults predicting that health care costs and premiums will go up after Obama’s re-election. Seventeen percent of U.S. adults were unsure of what a second Obama term would mean for health care costs.

One thing is for sure: When more provisions of health care reform do take effect, it will benefit those with individual insurance, no matter what happens to premiums. Rother says: “They may go down, they may go up, but you will get much more for the money.”

Politics, individual insurance and health care reform

More U.S. adults who currently have individual health insurance indicated that they were more aware of the federal health care reform law than U.S. adults overall.

Of those who are aware of the federal health care reform law, 42 percent of those with individual insurance said they were completely or very knowledgeable about the law, compared with 34 percent of all U.S. adults.

That’s not surprising, says Sabrina Corlette, research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. People with individual insurance don’t have a corporate HR department to lean on, so they’ve got to be highly informed consumers. Otherwise, she says, they can end up with coverage that doesn’t protect them when they need it.

Now that Obama has been re-elected, though, experts say that should change when health care reform fully takes effect in 2014.

Before the election, many states were in “waiting mode” in case a Romney administration would try to undermine reform, Corlette says. That’s because the law sets standards, but a lot hinges on how it’s enacted, such as how health insurance exchanges are run. The exchanges are online marketplaces where consumers will be able to shop for health insurance in each state.

Because Obama won, however, consumers with individual insurance can expect health insurance exchanges to offer an easier shopping experience choosing among plans with more robust benefits than many that are available now, Corlette says.

“I think the marketplace will get a heck of a lot better,” she says.

Survey methodology

This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive on behalf of from Sept. 25-27, 2012, among 2,475 adults age 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and, therefore, no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

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