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    New surveys show lack of awareness of financial assistance for mandated coverage

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    Many Haven't Visited Health Insurance Marketplaces

    By Karen Pallarito

    HealthDay Reporter

    FRIDAY, Jan. 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Despite a rush to enroll in December, many Americans who may be eligible for health insurance through the new state and federal marketplaces haven't shopped for coverage, a new survey shows.

    About 24 percent of eligible adults checked out the marketplaces by the end of December, up from 17 percent in October, a survey from The Commonwealth Fund found.

    Forty-one percent of those visitors were young adults, aged 19 to 34, a demographic considered key to the long-term success of the health insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act.

    Still, that means three of every four people who may be eligible for coverage stayed on the sidelines.

    "We don't know why they didn't visit," said study author Sara Collins, vice president for health care coverage and access at The Commonwealth Fund.

    Technical difficulties with the federal website "turned out to be a problem," Collins acknowledged. But another potential factor is simply lack of awareness, particularly among poor individuals.

    Just 61 percent of lower-income adults -- those who make $28,725 as an individual or $58,875 for a family of four -- were aware of the marketplaces, also known as exchanges, in December. And only half (52 percent) were aware of the financial assistance available to help pay for coverage.

    By contrast, 77 percent of people with incomes above 250 percent of the poverty level were aware of the marketplaces, and 72 percent were aware of the financial help that may be available to them.

    "What it does underscore is really the need for outreach efforts on the part of both federal and state exchanges and governments to make sure that people are aware of what they're eligible for," Collins said.

    Consumers have until March 31 to enroll in marketplace coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and the survey points to signs that many people will need help doing so.

    By December, more people found it easier to determine what their premium costs would be and what benefits would be covered. "But you still see people, a lot of people, having difficulty figuring out what their out-of-pocket responsibilities are going to be," she noted.

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