More Than Half of Americans Don't Know Obamacare Sign-Up Deadline

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — More than half of Americans (55%) still do not know the deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is March 31, according to a new Bankrate.com report.

The survey found that 24% incorrectly think the deadline already passed on Jan. 1 while 11% wrongly think they have until December 31, 2014 to sign up, a full nine months after the March 31, 2014 deadline.

Many Americans are not taking the deadline to sign up for Obamacare seriously. More than three in five (62%) of Americans think the government will push the deadline back to a later date.

"While the Obama Administration has changed many of the other Affordable Care Act deadlines, Americans should not assume that the March 31 deadline will be moved," said Bankrate.com insurance analyst Doug Whiteman. "We haven't seen a big publicity push from administration. However, lots of people aren't taking this seriously."

Despite major undertakings to inform young adults about the Affordable Care Act and the upcoming deadline to sign up for health insurance, 18-to-29 year olds are the most confused about the cutoff date and the most likely to think the government will push back the deadline, the survey found. Only 43% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 knew the correct deadline while 48% of individuals earning $75,000 or more knew the right answer, compared with 40% of those earning less than $30,000.

The survey also showed that 54% of college graduates chose the correct deadline, versus 40% with a high school education or less.

"We have seen a lot of confusion for the past six months," he said. "There has definitely been a knowledge gap. We would hope people would be more informed about it."

People who miss the March 31 deadline will have to wait until next year's open enrollment period if they decide they want subsidized health insurance, unless they experience a qualifying event such as marriage in the interim.

So far about 80% of those who have signed up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act have received a subsidy from the federal government. Bankrate.com has a free calculator that helps consumers determine their eligibility and compare costs.

"The success of Obamacare hinges on getting young, healthy people to sign up for health insurance and balance out the insurance pool," Whiteman said. "That would drive up insurance premiums for everyone. But it's especially worrisome that young adults – who are the most likely to be uninsured – are the least informed about the deadline and the most likely to think it will be moved."

Consumers who wait until April 1 to try and buy health insurance "will be out of luck" since the penalty will likely still apply, he said.

"They shouldn't assume the deadline will be moved or extended," Whiteman said. "There is nothing to indicate that will happen."

Consumers needs to be aware that if they fail to sign up for health insurance by the deadline, they will pay a minimum of $95 or 1% of their income, whichever is greater, said John DiVito, president of Flexible Benefit, a private insurance exchange based in Rosemont, Ill.

"Many don't realize this and assume they'll pay just the mere $95," he said. "These numbers will go up in coming years if people are still not insured - 2% of your income in 2015 and 2.5% in 2016. This is real and is not changing. Like it or not, people need to buy health insurance. That's the bottom line."

Consumers can not avoid paying the penalty, said Whiteman.

"People will have to pay it when they pay their taxes," he said. "If you are due a tax refund, it will be taken out of your refund."

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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