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AP-GfK Poll: Negative views of health rollout ease as more sign up; consumers still skeptical

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WASHINGTON - Memo to the White House: The website may be fixed, but President Barack Obama's new health insurance markets have yet to win over most consumers.

Negative perceptions of the health care rollout have eased, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds. But overall, two-thirds of Americans say things still aren't going well.

Of those who've tried to sign up, or who live with someone who has, 71 per cent have encountered problems. But the share reporting success jumped to 40 per cent from a meagre 24 per cent in December.

"Everything is not perfect; it takes time to work out the glitches," said Carol Lyles, a homecare provider from Los Angeles who was able to get coverage as a result of the law. "If done right, I believe it will provide the services that are needed."

The poll comes with about 60 days left in open enrolment season. The administration is playing catch-up to meet its goal of signing up 7 million people in new insurance exchanges that offer subsidized private coverage to middle-class households. So far, the markets have attracted an older crowd that tends to be more costly to cover. Younger people in the coveted 18-34 age group are still mainly on the sidelines.

While the poll did not find a turnaround for "Obamacare," the trend offers some comfort for supporters of the health care law.

In December, 76 per cent of adults had said the opening of the new markets was not going well. Such negative perceptions have now fallen 10 points to 66 per cent.

Still, rave reviews remain rare.

Only 4 per cent said things were going extremely or very well, while another 17 per cent said things were going somewhat well.

Compare that to 38 per cent who said the rollout had gone not at all well. Another 28 per cent said things were not going too well. Add those together and it makes up two-thirds of the public.

"People were locked out of the system," said Karyle Knowles, a restaurant server from San Antonio. "They weren't able to access what they should have, which only added to the mayhem."

The White House had hoped to bring the ease of online shopping to the daunting process of buying health insurance. Instead, the federal website serving 26 states froze up when it was launched Oct. 1. Some of the 14 states running their own sites also encountered problems. It took the better part of two months to straighten out the issues with the federal exchange.

The administration reported Friday that 3 million people have now signed up for private coverage through federal and state markets, and another 6.3 million have been deemed eligible for Medicaid coverage. It's not clear how many of those were previously uninsured.

According to the poll, many website users have had a frustrating experience. Among those who've tried to sign up, just 8 per cent say it worked well, 29 per cent somewhat well, 53 per cent not well.

The public's take on the law itself is stable, with 27 per cent saying they back it, 42 per cent opposed and 30 per cent neutral. Those figures are unchanged since December.

People who have tried to sign up are more positive than the overall public — 46 per cent say they back the law, 31 per cent oppose it.

But among the uninsured generally, there's a more even divide, with 30 per cent saying they support the law while 33 per cent oppose it.

The major elements of the health care law took effect with the new year. Virtually all Americans are now required to get covered or risk fines. Insurers can no longer turn away people with health problems. And the exchanges are open for business.

Enrolment in the Medicaid safety-net program is also rising. That's partly because of a program expansion accepted by about half the states and partly as a consequence of previously eligible but unenrolled people now forced to comply with the law's individual coverage mandate. Last week, Utah's Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said his state plans to become the 26th to accept the expansion.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Jan. 17-21 using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,060 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for the full sample.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost.

___

AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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