Photo: Ric Watkins
Photo: Ric Watkins

Georgians oppose health care law

With Obamacare’s most significant reforms ready for rollout, six in 10 Georgians have little idea of how the law will affect them, but most say they still don’t like it, a poll conducted for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

A majority of Georgians said they approve of some major elements of the new law. Even so, 57 percent said they had an unfavorable view of the Affordable Care Act, according to the statewide poll conducted for the AJC by Abt SRBI.

The poll also found:

  • Half of those polled said all or parts of the law should be repealed.
  • Slightly more than half opposed the law’s requirement that most Americans have insurance or pay a fine.
  • Six in 10 said Georgia should expand its Medicaid program, as the law envisioned, even though Gov. Nathan Deal has rejected the expansion.

  • A majority of Georgians embraced major provisions of the law, such as protecting consumers with pre-existing conditions and allowing parents to keep young adults on their insurance plans up to the age of 26.

  • Uninsured Georgians, who stand to benefit the most from the law , were the least likely to know how it might help them, with 77 percent in this group saying they were not clear on how the law will affect them. Sixty-three percent of uninsured respondents said they have a generally unfavorable opinion of the law.

Macon resident Michael Viox, 32, doesn’t like the health care law but sees the benefit of some of its provisions.

Charging women more than men for insurance is ridiculous, and being able to stay on parents’ insurance until age 26 could be a real help to college students, Viox said.

Of course, “if you’re a 25 year old living up underneath your mama’s roof because you’re too lazy to go out and get a job,” he said, “well that’s a problem the American people don’t need to pay for.”

Viox and his wife both attend college while also working – he as a self-employed IT consultant, she as a secretary. They live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford health insurance.

“(Being uninsured) is scary as hell, but we’re taking steps to get to where we want to be,” he said. “We could both quit going to school and basically live off the government and off the government’s health care plan, or we could sit here, go through school, make something of ourselves and be able to afford the insurance that we need.”

‘If they don’t know it, they don’t like it’

Only days remain before the Oct. 1 opening of the Health Insurance Marketplace, or exchange, a centerpiece of the health care overhaul. While most Georgians will continue to get their health plans at work, the exchange website will offer a completely new approach to obtaining insurance for those who buy their own plans or have no health coverage at all. The exchanges will enable consumers to shop for the best deals and qualify for financial assistance. About one in five Georgians is uninsured.

Among the most profound changes coming with the marketplace: insurers can’t turn down consumers or charge them more because of pre-existing conditions or ongoing illnesses.

While the law has already delivered a host of significant changes since its passage in 2010, the opening of the exchanges in every state is one of the Affordable Care Act’s biggest moments.

And yet, few Georgians appear to know that this moment has arrived.

The poll commissioned by the AJC found that only 37 percent said they had a good understanding of the law, while 62 percent said they were unclear about how it would affect them or their families.

“If they don’t know it, they don’t like it,” said Seth Brohinsky, an associate of the opinion research firm Abt SRBI. “The people it’s aimed to help do not understand it or do not have a clear vision of it. That’s probably why you do not see more support overall.”

The poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 12-Sept. 17 among a random sample of 801 adults in Georgia.

‘I know everybody can’t afford it’

Georgia’s political leadership has staunchly opposed the Affordable Care Act. But Georgia’s populace isn’t as universally opposed to every aspect of the law as its leaders are, the poll found.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision upended the law’s strategy for extending health care to most poor Americans when it enabled every state to decide whether it wanted to expand Medicaid, which today primarily covers poor children, pregnant women and the disabled. Georgia has joined nearly half the states in rejecting the expansion, which would have extended coverage to about 650,000 low-income Georgians.

The poll revealed a surprising finding about the Medicaid expansion: 60 percent of Georgians favor it, with just 31 percent agreeing with the governor’s steadfast rejection of it.

The expansion was favored by nearly 90 percent of Democrats, about half of independents and a third of Republicans. Large majorities of two key groups favored the expansion: metro Atlanta residents and respondents age 18-39 statewide.

It was opposed by nearly two-thirds of white respondents who identified themselves as evangelical Christians.

Brohinsky said the poll results show that many of the law’s elements, including the Medicaid expansion, have overwhelming popularity with key groups: Georgians under 40, the state’s urban dwellers and most non-whites. Together, these groups make up a significant share of Georgia’s population.

Nicole Perry, an interior designer from Alpharetta, doesn’t see the Medicaid expansion as giving people handouts. It’s offering a helping hand to fellow Georgians who need it, Perry said.

These people aren’t homeless or jobless, she said. They’re the contractors she works with through her design business, the workers who take on odd jobs to make ends meet. Perry herself is currently uninsured after she recently quit her job to open her own company.

“It can be the food server at your favorite restaurant who doesn’t have health care,” she said. “He doesn’t mean to infect people with his cold, but he doesn’t have the insurance to go see the doctor.”

Laurie Diamond, a poll respondent who lives in Atlanta’s Brookwood Hills neighborhood, is among those who oppose Obamacare and also among those who don’t yet know too much about how it will work.

She worries that it’s leading some big companies to cut workers’ hours so they do not offer health plans, and she opposes the mandate that almost everyone have insurance or face a penalty.

“I know everybody can’t afford it,” she said.

Diamond now buys her own insurance since she no longer gets coverage at work.

But she wasn’t aware that the Health Insurance Marketplace could offer her family some new options – and the possibility of tax credits to help cover premiums.

She said she will “absolutely” explore what’s coming. “I need to spend some time reading about the whole thing and looking at different options – if there are some,” she said.

‘Stay out of private business’

Cherokee County resident Paul Carden, one of the Georgians polled by the AJC, also said he doesn’t know much about the health care law.

What the 73-year-old does know, however, is that he’s heard too much about politicians squabbling over the law and not enough about how it will affect people’s lives. He also believes the government shouldn’t force people to buy insurance — or anything else for that matter.

“The government needs to stay out of private business,” Carden said. “If we weren’t paying so much in taxes, maybe we could pay more into charity and get people the health care they need.”

Most people who get their insurance at work will continue to do so. Experts do not expect large employers to shift away from offering benefits, although as the open enrollment season kicks in some workers may see tweaks in the coverage they get at work.

For people who aren’t insured or who buy their own plans, the opening of the Health Insurance Marketplace on Oct. 1 will offer concrete answers about what the law could mean for them. The plans sold on the exchange will take affect on Jan. 1, the same time that the law’s individual mandate kicks in.

The exchange marketplace is an online shopping site that will be similar to Travelocity or Expedia, where people can search for and compare travel options. On the Health Insurance Marketplace, consumers will enter family and income information and then find out what plans are available, how much they cost and whether they can qualify for tax credits and other subsidies to help pay for the coverage. Five private insurers have filed plans to sell insurance on the exchange.

Consumers who are offered affordable health plans at work can still shop for coverage on the exchange, but they can’t qualify for tax credits to help pay for the coverage. Consumers who shop on the Health Insurance Marketplace will also learn whether family members qualify for Georgia’s current Medicaid or PeachCare for Kids plans.

Viox, the 32-year-old from Macon who is uninsured, is among those who could benefit from the law’s goal of extending affordable coverage to people who don’t have health plans. He and his family are likely to qualify for a plan on the Health Insurance Marketplace that would only cost him hundreds of dollars a year instead of the thousands of dollars in premiums he would face today.

“It is worth looking into,” he said, “especially if it’s through a private company.”

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