Survey: Citizens may be ill-informed on insurance mandate

By Tom Sullivan
09:16 AM

WASHINGTON -- Despite being the most recognized piece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the individual mandate remains the least popular.

That’s according to a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, which finds that nearly twice as many Americans stand against the individual mandate as support it.

But is that because many Americans simply do not understand what the individual mandate is?

Perhaps most interesting among Kaiser’s results: The more respondents learned about the individual mandate, the higher their favorability toward the provision.

Upon learning that the vast majority of Americans would continue to obtain coverage through employers, and thus not have to either buy new insurance or be subject to a tax penalty, the percentage of those in favor shot up from 33 to 61. Likewise, the unfavorable responses to that category dropped from 65 to 34 percent.

And when hearing that the individual mandate would both prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to sick people and that people would not be penalized if the cost of coverage took up too much of their income, the favorability rating rose to 49 percent on both points – and the unfavorable dropped to 44 and 45, respectively.

Lest these numbers belie an awakening in which Americans are warming to the individual mandate, the Supreme Court hearings this week highlight how controversial health reform in general – and the individual mandate, specifically – remain.

“While the precise share of the public with a favorable or unfavorable view of the individual mandate varies slightly between polls, each survey finds that overall sentiment is about two to one in opposition to the mandate,” Kaiser authors wrote in the report.

Since November 2011, intense opposition to the mandate has increased 11 percentage points, from 43 percent to 54 percent, Kaiser found. And even among Democrats who favor the law overall, only 45 percent support the individual mandate.

So it follows that a mere 33 percent of respondents to Kaiser's polling anticipate that the Supreme Court will uphold the individual mandate as constitutional, while 53 percent expect the court to find it unconstitutional, and 14 percent either don’t know or refused to answer the question.

Whereas 28 percent of respondents envision that, should the Supreme Court justices rule against the individual mandate, it would effectively cripple the remaining pieces of the ACA, 62 percent expect that such a ruling would not kill the health reform law.

“Going forward, it will also be important to assess whether Americans perceive that they will be directly affected by the mandate or not,” Kaiser authors explained, “given that experts suggest that the vast majority of Americans will already satisfy the individual requirement when it takes effect in 2014.”