More than 19 million Americans have visited the health insurance exchanges setup by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. What do these Americans think about the exchanges? Why did they visit the websites?
The Pew Research Center recently contacted 1,504 adults to obtain the answers to these questions. Here are five surprising findings from their survey.
1. Most visitors to Obamacare exchanges already have insurance.
Americans who already have health insurance through their employers or government programs don't need to purchase insurance through the Obamacare exchanges. That didn't stop them from seeing what all the buzz was about, though.
Pew's survey found that 70% of visitors to the exchanges already have health insurance. Most of these individuals (41%) are covered through their employers, with another 15% obtaining insurance through Medicare, Medicaid, or another government program. Only 29% of exchange visitors are currently uninsured.
2. Many uninsured visitors didn't, or won't, visit the exchanges to buy insurance.
When asked why they visited the Obamacare exchanges, only 39% of respondents indicated that they wanted to look at insurance options. Over half of visitors went to the websites just to check things out.
More interesting results came when Pew asked uninsured Americans about their purpose for visiting the Obamacare exchange websites. The largest group, 36% of respondents, didn't plan to visit the exchanges at all. Only 33% said their objective would be to actually evaluate insurance options for their families. Another 29% of uninsured individuals said they would visit just to look at the exchanges. And 2% responded that they would visit the exchange, but didn't know why.
3. Relatively few uninsured Americans plan to obtain health insurance because of Obamacare.
While around one-third of uninsured Americans say they will use the exchanges to potentially buy health insurance, only 26% said that they will do so within the next six months because of Obamacare. Another 35% of uninsured individuals stated that they will either not get insurance, or don't know if they will obtain coverage.
Pew found that 38% of uninsured respondents planned to get insurance even without the health-reform legislation. The good news for hospitals and other companies banking on the rolls of uninsured Americans declining is that 65% plan to obtain insurance.
4. More exchange visitors than you might think found the websites easy to use.
Of the survey respondents who actually visited an Obamacare exchange, 56% said that the online website was either fairly easy or very easy to use. However, the same number said that the exchanges are not working well.
This seems contradictory at first glance. One possible explanation, though, is that the visitors separated the intuitiveness and general flow of the websites from the technical problems that were encountered.
5. Despite widely publicized problems, many Americans think the exchanges are working well.
Pew found that 29% of Americans surveyed think that the Obamacare exchanges are working well -- with 7% saying that the websites are working very well. That's quite surprising considering the amount of publicity that has been given to the serious technical problems with the federally operated website, in particular.
An age gap appears to exist in public perception of the exchanges. Thirty-seven percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 think the websites are working well, while 28% or less of Americans in the other age-range categories hold the same opinion.
There's another area where views are being expressed that aren't what you might expect. The stock market records a real-time survey of sorts where people can vote with their pocketbooks. With all of the serious technical woes facing the Obamacare exchanges, you might think that the stocks of the contractors that built the websites might be suffering. But they're not.
CGI Group (NYSE:GIB) is the biggest player, with a federal contract worth nearly $300 million. The Canadian firm has also helped build several state exchange websites. Even with the huge amount of negative publicity about the exchange failures, CGI's stock is still essentially where it was prior to the launch of the Obamacare exchanges.
Some have pointed the finger at Oracle's (NYSE:ORCL) Identity Manager software as a cause of exchange issues. Oracle released a statement in response to these allegations saying that its product is working as it should. Either way, investors haven't thought badly of Oracle. Shares are trading roughly at the same level as they did prior to the Oct. 1 start-up of the Obamacare exchanges.
Quality Software Services, a division of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH), is another contractor involved significantly in the development of the federally operated Obamacare exchange. While UnitedHealth is down nearly 4% since the exchanges began operations, that relatively small decline is more related to the company's earnings announcement than anything else. Quality Software Services isn't a big enough component of the insurer's total revenue to make a dent, anyway.
The most important pocketbook opinions will be expressed over the next few months of Obamacare open enrollment. If the problems with the exchanges are quickly resolved, and the majority of uninsured Americans buy insurance, current negatives will be largely forgotten. If not, there could be some real shocks in future surveys.