Why are so many Americans who are eligible for help with healthinsurance not signing up for it? Kaiser Family Foundation set outto discover the answer, and it appears to be: confusion andmisunderstanding.

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Kaiser authorized a massive, 10,000-person study last fall justbefore open enrollment to look into who was applyingfor, and receiving health insurance in America, and who wasn’t.

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What they found was that nearly half of the 30 million U.S.adults running around uninsured were eligible for assistance, andeven free coverage, by law. About a third of them qualified formarketplace tax credits, and another 18 percent for Medicaid.

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So they were asked: Why don’t you apply for coverage?

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“A majority (59 percent) of the eligible but still uninsured saythat they did not try to get health insurance from either theirstate marketplace, healthcare.gov, or their state Medicaid agencyin 2014,” reported the foundation. “Many did not explore the newcoverage options and financial assistance available under the ACA,perhaps reflecting a lack of awareness or perceptions about cost.”

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A mistaken impression about the cost of coverage emerged as alarge factor. Of those without coverage, 53 percent cited aperceived cost barrier as the main reason. These folks wereeligible for the subsidy but simply thought the price tag would be too high for them.

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Read: Premiums, deductibles squeeze workers

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“Confusion about eligibility played a role,” Kaiser said. “Amongthe uninsured who were eligible, and who sought coverage, 37percent say they were told they were ineligible for it. While it ispossible that they were ineligible at the time they applied, it islikely that these people received incorrect information ormisinterpreted information they were given.”

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Turns out that the much-ballyhooed problems with insurancewebsites and hard-to-understand applications weren’t a hugefactor.

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“Only 20 percent of the remaining uninsured overall said theydid not have coverage because they had an application still pending(12 percent) or because they didn’t finish the application (8percent),” the foundation said.

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But some of the 30 million uninsured really couldn’t getcoverage. Kaiser found that millions in the states that hadn’texpanded Medicaid really didn’t qualify either for Medicaid or formarketplace subsidies.

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“Many are low-income, including the nearly 4 million adults inthe 'coverage gap' — those living in states that have not expandedMedicaid who earn too much to qualify for their state’s currentMedicaid program but not enough to get ACA marketplace subsidies,”Kaiser reported. “Also ineligible for assistance under the law aremillions of uninsured who have an offer of coverage through theiremployer that they do not take up, are undocumented immigrants, orhave incomes above 400 percent of the poverty level and do notqualify for subsidies to make coverage more affordable.”

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.