Kaiser confirms: Millions of people in for a rude awakening next month (& next year)

Back in January, I wrote:

Millions of people who failed to make sure they were enrolled in ACA-compliant healthcare coverage are going to file their tax returns this spring thinking that they don't have to pay a penalty for not doing so only to discover that the penalty is still in effect.

Then, next spring (assuming the IRS sticks to its guns on the issue and there's no further legislative changes made), anyone who didn't #GetCovered for 2018 are also going to have to pay the penalty (which, again, is either $695 per adult/$348 per child or 2.5% of their household Modified Adjusted Gross Income).

The damage caused by the mandate being repealed to the individual market risk pool (and rate premiums) will be felt this November, when people start shopping around for 2019 coverage...but the actual "benefit" (i.e., those who don't get covered not having to pay the mandate penalty) won't show up until spring 2020.

The Kaiser Family Foundation's tracking poll confirmed my suspicions about most people being confused by the exact timing of the mandate and its repeal, but the wording of their question bothered me:

However, there's another problem with the wording of the survey question: It doesn't ask whether they know when the mandate repeal goes into effect. Only 36% of the public knows it's been repealed (which I suppose is a good thing under the circumstances, since it means the other 64% think it's still in effect...which of course it is until next year). Of those 36%, however, I'd love to know how many are aware of when the repeal kicks into effect. I'd be willing to bet the answer is "very few of them".

Well, Kaiser must have had the same thinking, because they changed the wording of the question for their February survey, and sure enough, it's exactly as bad as I thought:

Yup, only 13% of the public understands that a) the ACA's Individual Mandate has been repealed, but b) the repeal itself doesn't actually go into effect until they pay their taxes for 2019 in the spring of 2020.

Ironically, this is actually good news in some ways: Fully 79% of the population either knows the mandate penalty is still around for now or at least isn't sure one way or the other, which means they're more likely to get covered just in case.

However, 21% of the public incorrectly thinks that the mandate is no longer in effect. Kaiser didn't break the survey question out by those covered by employer-sponsored insurance or other types of healthcare coverage, but assuming that 21% is representative of those on the individual market specifically, that means that something like 3 million people currently enrolled in ACA-compliant individual market policies think that they don't have to pay a financial penalty for going uncovered. That's a very bad thing for two reasons: Some of those people are still going to have to pay the penalty...but the whole reason for having the penalty in the first place (to stabilize the risk pool) will be for nothing.