By Lewis Krauskopf
(Reuters) - Uninsured Americans are showing more interest in the coverage offered under President Barack Obama's healthcare law despite technical problems that have hindered enrollment through a government website, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.
The glitches have crippled HealthCare.gov, the new online insurance marketplace meant to serve people in 36 states, frustrating millions of would-be applicants since it opened for enrollment on October 1.
The poll's findings are good news for Obamacare supporters who worry the problems and bad press could dissuade people from signing up, particularly the young and healthy who are crucial to diversifying the pool of insured and keeping premiums down.
The uninsured view the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, more favorably since online marketplaces opened - 44 percent compared with 37 percent in September, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll. It found that 56 percent oppose the program compared with 63 percent in September.
A higher proportion of the uninsured also said they are interested in buying insurance on the exchanges, with 42 percent in October, saying they were likely to enroll compared with 37 percent in September. The results have a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
For a graphic, see: http://link.reuters.com/myw44v
"The launch of the exchanges, that's the first real world event for a lot of people," said Chris Jackson, an Ipsos pollster. "There's been this sense that once people got familiar with it, public opinion would start to move in its direction."
The online poll of nearly 12,000 people was conducted in October. Some 1,100 of the respondents identified themselves as uninsured.
Among the general public, support for the law rose from nearly 44 percent to 47 percent, with a credibility interval of 1 percentage point, according to the poll.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that up to 7 million people are likely to sign up for coverage on the private exchanges for 2014, but that number has been called into question due to HealthCare.gov's problems. The Obama administration has said it is working around the clock to fix the website by the end of November.
The results showed that the rise in both the law's popularity and in the uninsured's willingness to buy was much greater in the 14 states that chose to run their own exchanges and whose sites have generally operated more smoothly than HealthCare.gov, which serves the other 36 states.
More than half of respondents in state-run exchanges now favor the law compared with about four in 10 elsewhere.
To the uninsured the faulty website is "a technical barrier that is being repaired and it pales to barriers they've faced in the past," said Sara Collins, vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, a private healthcare research foundation.
The law bans insurers from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions and provides subsidies to help low-to-middle income Americans buy private insurance. The Congressional Budget Office has projected it will cut the uninsured population by half, or about 25 million people, in the next decade.
Melissa Harvey, an asthmatic who spends $500 per month on prescription medicines, has been seeking insurance for five years. The 37-year-old has been without coverage since she lost her job as a public defender and moved back to Colorado to start a private law practice.
"I wish the plans were cheaper," Harvey said of the insurance offered on Colorado's state-run exchange. "But at the same time, the plans I am looking at would be less per month than what I'm paying in prescription costs."
At the same time, news reports about HealthCare.gov's struggles have kept Amanda Wood from visiting the site to check out health plans in New Jersey.
Wood, 25, said the problems remind her of frustrations trying to register electronically for classes when she was in college. "It's a huge website," Wood said. "I would just prefer to wait until it's working."
Among the majority of uninsured Americans surveyed in the poll who said they oppose the law, many resent its requirement to buy coverage or face a fine.
"I don't believe the government should have to tell me I have to buy any insurance," said Joshua Lucas of Arizona, a stay-at-home father of two. "I'm 34 years old, and I am in great health, so I don't feel like I have to have it."
(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York and Deena Beasley in Los Angeles; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Ross Colvin and Grant McCool)