What Deadline? Most Americans Unaware of ObamaCare Deadline

The White House, lawmakers, policy analysts and the health-care and insurance industries are all keeping a watchful eye on March 31 as it brings to an end the enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act.But that’s about all who is aware of the approaching deadline—which could be a problem since the law relies on consumer participation.

A new survey reveals that to the general population, that date isn’t all too significant. According to Bankrate.com (NYSE: RATE), more than half (55%) of Americans don’t know that this is the deadline to sign up for insurance under the ACA.

What’s more, nearly one in four (24%) believe the deadline to get coverage under the ACA already passed on Jan. 1, and 11% think they have until the end of 2014 to enroll in a plan.

Those who miss the open enrollment deadline will have to wait until 2015’s open enrollment period to access coverage, barring a major life event like a marriage or divorce. Anyone who does not have coverage by April 1 will face a penalty of $95 or 1% of their annual income for failing to comply.

Bankrate.com insurance analyst Doug Whiteman says many Americans do receive insurance from their employer, which may explain the lack of urgency and awareness.

“Getting coverage from your employer is the most common way to have insurance in the country, so there may be confusion about the law,” Whiteman says. “And there hasn’t been a big publicity push on the deadline from the Obama Administration.”

What’s more troubling is that the survey finds that young people are even less informed about the deadline despite the White House’s efforts that specifically target this demographic to get coverage. “They are the least likely to have insurance and the least likely to know,” Whiteman says.

Since the open enrollment period kicked off on Oct. 1, 3 million Americans have enrolled in plans on both state and federal exchanges, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The only demographics HHS released are from mid-January’s enrollment report which showed 24% of the 2.2 million enrollees were ages 18 to 34.

Having young and healthy people enrolled in coverage is essential to making the law work and keeping premium levels low by offsetting the cost of insuring older and less healthy people.

The ACA has undergone more than 10 tweaks or delays since its launch, which may also be why Americans are not taking this deadline seriously. Bankrate reports that more than three in five believe the government will push back the deadline for open enrollment to give consumers more time. What’s more, people ages 18-29 were even more likely to predict an enrollment delay.

“People should not be assuming the deadline will be moved,” Whiteman says. “There is nothing out there to say that will happen, and there are consequences if you miss this deadline. The window closes and you may be out of luck.”

Americans are also souring on the law, the report finds with 33% feeling more negative about the law than they did one year ago; 12% report feeling more positively. This is the largest difference in opinion the survey has found since this study began in August 2013.

Bankrate surveyed 1,006 adults in the U.S. by phone between Jan. 16 and 19.