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Getting Covered

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"Getting Covered"

Uninsured Rate Hits Lowest Level Since 2009

How is the Affordable Care Act doing? One way to judge is by looking at one of its primary goals: providing uninsured Americans access to affordable health coverage. And on this measure, it is succeeding.

We know that over 4 million people have enrolled in private coverage under the law. And according to a survey by Gallup released today, the rate of uninsured Americans has now reached its lowest level since 2009:

uninsured

CREDIT: GALLUP

As the chart above shows, the uninsured rate was 17.1 percent at the end of 2013, down from a peak of 18 percent. Two months into 2014, it now sits at 15.9 percent–the lowest level since the first quarter of 2009. That decrease may not look like much, but it represents millions of people getting health insurance who previously weren’t covered. The decrease also represents a marked departure from the trend of rising levels of uninsured over the last several years.

This good news only gets better by taking a closer look at the numbers. “The uninsured rate for almost every major demographic group has dropped in 2014 so far,” wrote Gallup researchers. And the groups who have seen the sharpest decreases in uninsured rates so far this year have been among those most at risk from lacking insurance coverage — low-income and black Americans. In fact, in the first two months of 2014, the percentage of uninsured African Americans has reduced from 20.9 percent to 18.3 percent, a 2.6-point drop. And among those earning under $36,000 per year, the rate of uninsured went from 30.7 percent to 27.9 percent.

Some people have expressed concern that the new law is not reaching the uninsured quickly enough, but today’s survey and other research should ease those fears. Besides, it makes sense that the uninsured wouldn’t necessarily sign up for insurance coverage right away, according to Larry Levitt, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation:

“There’s every reason to believe that early enrollment skewed towards the already insured and that the uninsured will sign up later. People who were insured and had their old non-compliant policies cancelled were no doubt first in line in the new marketplaces, along with some people with pre-existing conditions who were locked out of the market before… The uninsured, particularly those who are young and healthy, are more likely to enroll as the final deadline approaches this month.”

BOTTOM LINE: The evidence shows that the Affordable Care Act is working and that uninsured Americans are signing up for health care. The uninsured rate is at the lowest it has been in years, and more and more of the uninsured have been getting covered. Outreach remains critical with just 22 days until open enrollment ends, but this is good news for those of us who think health care should be accessible for all Americans.