- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 28, 2016

Obamacare places pretty far down the list of concerns for Americans, according to a survey, underscoring President Obama’s difficulty with just three days left to apply for coverage to get the public to buy into his health care law.

Voters overall are more focused on issues like the Middle East and gun control, and even those who lack health insurance and could stand to benefit from the Affordable Care Act are “largely disengaged” from the enrollment process, according to figures released Thursday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

The findings counter both parties’ efforts to whip up enthusiasm in a pivotal election year. Only a fifth of those without coverage said they have explored whether they qualify for public assistance to buy coverage, even as the administration implores the uninsured to log on to Web-based exchanges to see if they qualify for subsidized insurance.

“With the Affordable Care Act’s third open-enrollment period ending Jan. 31, the survey finds people who remain uninsured are largely disengaged from the ongoing enrollment process,” the foundation said.

Meanwhile, only four in 10 people knew that President Obama blocked a Republican-led bill this month to repeal the health care law. By forcing Mr. Obama to exercise his veto power, Republican leaders felt they nabbed a high-profile public relations victory right as voters turn to the presidential race.

Republicans say anti-Obamacare sentiment helped them earn sweeping victories in the 2010 and 2014 congressional elections, while Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernard Sanders are waging a war in their primary over whether to expand the health care law.

But less than a quarter of people say the Affordable Care Act will be “extremely important” to their vote this cycle, placing it eighth behind issues such as terrorism (38 percent), the economy (34 percent) and the situation in Syria and Iraq (26 percent), where Islamic State extremists have seized a wide swath of territory.

Nearly 30 percent did say the cost of health insurance was a top issue for them, putting it in a three-way tie for third with the federal budget deficit and dissatisfaction with government.

Only 4 percent of voters pointed to Obamacare as the single most important issue to their vote this cycle, however, placing it just behind climate change (5 percent). The top issues were the economy (12 percent), terrorism (10 percent) and dissatisfaction with government (9 percent).

The Kaiser poll found the government and Obamacare’s nonprofit allies have failed in reaching the uninsured, with two-thirds of those lacking coverage saying they have not been contacted about signing up. Sunday is the 2016 deadline for those on state-based or federal insurance exchanges to sign up, renew or switch policies, or face a fine under the 2010 law.

Officials charged with implementing Obamacare said Thursday that it was always going to be difficult to root out those who didn’t sign up during the first two rounds in 2014 and 2015.

But they rejected the idea that they hit a brick wall this year. Enrollment is up by 20 percent compared with this time last year in 14 states, they said, with particular progress in cities across the South, where Republican-dominated state governments have largely rejected Mr. Obama’s vision.

“I think we’re all feeling good about where we are. No one’s running a victory lap, but feeling good,” said Kevin Counihan, CEO of the federal HealthCare.gov website, which serves 38 states.

Congressional scorekeepers last week downgraded their estimates for 2016 enrollment from 21 million to 13 million, and Kaiser analysts said overall opinion of the law tilts negative, 44 percent to 41 percent.

Pre-deadline activity on HealthCare.gov has shot up 50 percent compared with the same time last week, and the 8.9 million customers through Jan. 23 beat last year’s total with a week to spare, said Andy Slavitt, acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

He added that “8.9 million is a number we’re pleased with.”

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