60-Second Science

Health Insurance Mystifies Many Americans

A survey finds that sizeable percentages of Americans don't know how health insurance works and what various options mean. Christopher Intagliata reports


Obama: “Have you heard of the Affordable Care Act?”
Galifianakis: “Oh yeah, I heard about that…that's the thing that doesn't work?” Zach Galifianakis ribbing President Obama in the instant classic viral video.
But even if Americans have heard of Obamacare, via Zach or more conventional means, many don't know how it works—or even how health insurance works generally.

Last fall, researchers quizzed 6000 Americans, age 18 to 65, on health insurance and the new law. Half didn't know about the insurance marketplaces, or their subsidies. Forty-two percent couldn't define a deductible. And two thirds didn't know the difference between an HMO, with its restrictive physician network, and a PPO, which typically offers more flexibility. The full survey is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Silvia Helena Barcellos et al,  Preparedness of Americans for the Affordable Care Act]
Study author Silvia Helena Barcellos of U.S.C. says those most likely to benefit from the law—like uninsured young and low-income respondents—typically know the least. "It's very hard to believe that people will make informed choices…without having knowledge of these basic concepts." And until we master the basics, she says, simpler insurance options might be just what the doctor ordered.
—Christopher Intagliata
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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