Kaiser Health Policy News Index: April 2014

The Kaiser Health Policy News Index is designed to help journalists and policymakers understand which health policy-related news stories Americans are paying attention to, and what the public understands about health policy issues covered in the news. This month’s Index finds that the public followed the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, the shooting at the Fort Hood army post, and the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, more closely than any health policy news stories. Among health policy news, the most closely-followed story was coverage of how many people have enrolled in health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which just over half the public reports following “very” or “fairly” closely.


Figure 1

News of a surge in enrollment through the ACA’s health insurance marketplaces at the end of March caught the public’s attention this month; it was the most closely followed health policy news story, with over half (53 percent) saying they followed it “very” or “fairly closely.” The April 2014 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that many Americans retained the information they got from the news, as over four in ten (43 percent) were correctly able to identify that “about eight million” people1 had signed up for coverage through the ACA’s new marketplaces as of April. Over half of those who reported closely following the news about ACA enrollment were able to correctly identify the number of sign ups, while smaller shares of those who reported “not too closely” or “not at all closely” following the story (36 percent and 22 percent) were able to answer correctly.

Figure 2: Those Following ACA Enrollment News More Likely To Correctly Identify Number Of Sign Ups
By reported attention to ACA enrollment news story…
Do you happen to know about how many people have signed up for coverage through the law’s marketplaces so far? TOTAL Very Closely Fairly Closely Not Too Closely Not At All Closely
About 500,000 12% 8% 11% 11% 17%
About 3 million 14 11 14 18 12
About 8 million* 43 57 53 36 22
About 13 million 9 8 10 11 7
None of these, some other number 4 6 3 3 4
Don’t know/Refused 18 9 8 21 39
*For interviews conducted April 15-16, wording was “about 7 million”.

Public attention to ACA enrollment lagged behind three non-health stories this month: the missing Malaysia Airlines flight (76 percent), a deadly shooting at Fort Hood Army post in Texas (66 percent), and the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia (65 percent). About half of the public – similar to the share who say they closely followed the ACA enrollment numbers – reports closely following discussions of the federal budget (51 percent), reports about safety defects in cars made by General Motors (50 percent), and the extension of the deadline to sign up for health insurance  under the ACA (49 percent).

At the end of March, the Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases challenging the ACA’s requirement that for-profit companies cover birth control in their workers’ health plans. Over four in ten Americans (44 percent) say they followed news of the case “very” or “fairly closely”. This is slightly higher than the share that reported paying close attention to another Supreme Court news story: the decision overturning certain limits on campaign donations (37 percent). The Supreme Court contraception case was closely followed by similar shares of men and women, and similar shares of Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

Two other health policy stories this month were followed by smaller shares of the public: the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (35 percent) and the release of Medicare data detailing what individual physicians were paid in 2012 (25 percent).

NOTE: These questions were asked as part of the April 2014 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll. For more results from that survey, including methods, see: Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: April 2014.

  1. The survey was in the field April 15-21. The Obama Administration announced on April 1 that at least 7 million people had signed up for coverage through the ACA’s marketplace, and announced on April 17 that the figure was at least 8 million. For interviews conducted April 15-16, the question about enrollment numbers included “about 7 million” as a possible response option; that option was changed to “about 8 million” for interviews conducted April 17-21. Our analysis indicates there were no substantive differences in opinion for interviews conducted before and after the April 17 announcement.

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