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Uninsured Americans have now taken a back seat to once insured Americans

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The Obama administration’s latest concession to Americans whose health insurance policies were canceled in obeisance with the Affordable Care Act suggests a new reality when it comes to the president’s vaunted “safety net” and notions of “fairness.” Under the terms of the memo released late Thursday by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, those who lost coverage are now exempt from the individual mandate and its tax penalty in the event they chose not to buy a replacement policy. In addition, as health insurance guru Robert Laszewski explains, these individuals now qualify for “the very high deductible Catastrophic Plan that was originally reserved only for those under the age of 30.”

So where does this leave the estimated 25 to 40 million Americans who never had health insurance and for whom this safety net was created? In essence it relegates them to the status of second-class citizens. If they want insurance, they have to go through normal channels, and if they don’t they have to pay a penalty (at least in theory). They are not entitled to any dispensation.

But how fair is that? A key provision of the law has been waved for some but not for the law’s poster children (viz., the neediest). That assumes, of course, that the administration’s view that Americans without health insurance were deeply desirous of having it but, in many cases, couldn’t afford it.

Now a new poll from CBS News/New York Times hints at the likelihood that having health insurance hasn’t been that high a priority for the nation’s uninsured population. According to the poll, 58% of those without health uninsured have not felt the impetus to visit one of the health exchanges in the nearly three months since they went on line. Of the remainder of uninsureds, another 32% said they looked online but didn’t apply. Only 10% have applied. (See graph here.)

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