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Touting Obamacare, US says millions could pay less than $100 a month

A report by HHS says 56 percent of uninsured could pay $100 or less (or nothing) for health coverage. Enrollment opens on Oct. 1, but public resistance to Obamacare is stronger than ever. 

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A pro-Obama group, Enroll America, is reaching out to various segments of the population to sell the reform and boost awareness, as Oct. 1 approaches.

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A large uninsured population has dogged the nation for decades – a combination of people who can’t afford insurance but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid; people with health conditions that have made them uninsurable; and people who choose to go uninsured. Obamacare bans excluding from coverage people with preexisting conditions.  

On Tuesday, the Census Bureau reported that between 2011 and 2012, the percentage of the US population that lacks health insurance declined only slightly – from 15.7 percent to 15.4 percent. In 2012, 48 million people lacked coverage, compared with 48.6 million in 2011.

According to HHS, of the 41.3 million individuals who are uninsured and eligible for a federal coverage benefit, more than half – 56 percent – may qualify for Medicaid, CHIP, or tax credits to buy coverage for $100 per month or less.

Still, the administration faces a math problem: The fine for lack of compliance can be as low as $95 for all of 2014, the first year of the program – far less than the cost of coverage. In subsequent years, the fines will increase, but won’t equal or exceed the cost of coverage to those above a certain income level. Some people object to a government mandate that requires them to buy insurance; others, especially healthy 20-somethings dubbed “young invincibles,” are willing to take their chances without insurance and save money.

Experts on health law argue that those up-front savings could be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

“People buy health insurance for stability, making sure they aren’t bankrupted by a car accident or heart attack,” Timothy Jost, a law professor who studies health policy at Washington and Lee School of Law in Lexington, Va., tells Politifact.com. “For a lot of those people, they’re going to decide they’d rather pay a bit more for insurance and have something than pay the penalty and be uninsured.”

Another source of frustration for the Obama administration is the decision by about half the states to opt out of the law’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility, which the Supreme Court said they had the right to do in its 2012 ruling that upheld the bulk of the law.

The HHS report released Tuesday assumes in its data that 25 states and the District of Columbia will expand their Medicaid programs. On Monday, another state – Pennsylvania – took a step toward acceptance of expanded Medicaid. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) said he would take up the federal government’s offer of additional money for expanded Medicaid eligibility, amounting to billions of dollars, if he could use it to buy private insurance policies rather than expand a health-care entitlement. Some 520,000 people would benefit.

Under Governor Corbett’s plan, Medicaid recipients would have to be either looking for work or participating in job training. No other state has that requirement.

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