A Fifth of Eligible Americans Visited the Exchanges

President Obama and his supporters had said that awareness of the marketplaces was essential to success, but more than a month after they launched just 17% of potentially eligible Americans have visited them.

For weeks before the health insurance exchanges launched, President Obama and his supporters had said that bringing awareness of the marketplaces was essential to success. More than a month after the exchanges launched, though, just 17% of potentially eligible Americans have visited them.

However, the good news is that awareness is up, according to a Commonwealth Fund survey. In October, 60% of Americans were aware of the marketplaces and 53% knew that financial help may be available to them. Earlier in the year, the Commonwealth Fund found that just a third was aware of the exchanges.

“While it is disappointing that so many people have had difficulty accessing the online marketplace, the survey results show that awareness of the marketplaces has grown this fall, and those who initially struggled appear determined to try again,” Sara Collins, PhD, the lead survey researcher and Commonwealth Fund Vice President for Health Care Coverage and Access, said in a statement.

Survey results revealed that more than half of adults (58%) who had not yet gone to the exchanges or had visited without enrolling in a plan said they are still likely to shop for coverage through the marketplace by March 31.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, one in five adults who visited the exchanges in October said they enrolled in a health plan. Nearly half who did not enroll said it was because they were not certain they could afford a plan and 46% said they were still deciding which plan they wanted. However, technical issues were also a reason why some consumers did not enroll.

The majority of adults who visited the marketplaces found it difficult to navigate. For instance, 38% said it was very difficult or impossible to find a plan with the type of coverage they needed while 19% found it somewhat difficult for a total of 56%. And despite being the health law’s name as the Affordable Care Act, 61% said it was difficult to find a plan they could afford.

During the first month of enrollment, 70% of adults who visited the exchanges rated their experiences as fair or poor. And yet, 42% of respondents to the Commonwealth Fund survey said they had a somewhat or very favorable opinion of the new insurance options available under the ACA.

“The initial rollout of the health insurance marketplaces has been challenging, but as the website problems are addressed we expect people’s experiences to improve,” Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal, MD, said in a statement. “We cannot lose sight of the fact that millions of Americans are going to gain health insurance coverage under the law. However, it is crucial that the federal marketplaces are open and functioning well to be sure those gains are fully realized and that users are able to understand the costs and benefits of the products they are being offered.”