With a key component of the Affordable Care Act set to go live in two weeks, Americans are as confused as ever about what in the heck the law will do, according to two new polls.
The new health care exchanges — online marketplaces where people can buy insurance — open October 1, yet Americans are still largely clueless about the specifics. That could be problematic for the ObamaCare rollout, since the administration will have to not only educate Americans about the law, but also convince them to take advantage of it.
Only 25 percent of respondents in a Pew/USA Today survey say they understand "very well" how the law will affect them. Among the uninsured, 76 percent of respondents in a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll say they don't know how the law will affect them personally, and only 32 percent say they are "fairly" or "very" likely to use the exchanges.
Expanding the pool of insured Americans through the exchanges is a critical goal of the law. With more people enrolling in health care plans, the thinking goes, insurance companies will have to compete for their business, thereby driving down costs for everyone. For all the heated rhetoric over the law — from death panels to the death of freedom — it's really that simple.
With the exchanges nearing, the administration and allied nonprofits have begun an education blitz to inform Americans about the law. Washington, D.C.'s, pro soccer team is even pitching in on that front.
On the other side, some of the law's opponents have launched their own drives to convince uninsured Americans — particularly young adults — to skip the exchanges and pay ObamaCare's penalty for not having coverage.
"We're trying to make it socially acceptable to skip the exchange," says Dean Clancy, vice president of public policy with FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group.
Why young Americans? They tend to have lower medical bills, which helps drive down premiums for everyone.
The Citizens Council for Healthcare Freedom is more direct in its effort to undermine ObamaCare, putting out a flier that explicitly links low enrollment to its stated goal of defeating the law.
"If not enough people enroll, the Exchanges will fail," the flier says. "If the Exchanges fail, Obamacare fails. Defend your freedom by refusing to enroll."
In addition, both new polls find Americans generally opposed to the law. Fifty-three percent of respondents in Pew's survey say they disapprove of the law, while a 44 percent plurality tells NBC that ObamaCare is a bad idea.
However, 27 percent of all respondents say they want their representatives to "do what they can to make the law work as well as possible." A smaller 23 percent of all respondents say they want their lawmakers to "make the law fail," a warning to Republicans in Congress who have threatened to shut down the government unless ObamaCare is defunded.
To put that another way, less than a quarter of all Americans wants Congress to kill the law.
One group, however, is overwhelmingly in favor of actively undermining the law: Tea Party supporters.
Fewer than half of all Republicans and Republican leaners (43 percent) want elected officials who oppose the law to do what they can to make it fail; 37 percent say they should try to make it work as well as possible.
However, 64 percent of Tea Party Republicans oppose the law and want elected officials to do what they can to make it fail. By comparison, just 31 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners who do not agree with the Tea Party favor this approach. [Pew]
You see that same dynamic among congressional Republicans. Those speaking loudest in favor of a government shutdown tend to be Tea Partiers, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) chief among them. The more moderate leadership, meanwhile, is largely opposed to the idea.