For the first time in more than 50 years of surveys, the CDC on Wednesday reported that more than 90% of Americans — 90.8% of us, to be specific — have health insurance.
Until now, no major survey had ever found that the uninsured rate in America has hit single digits.
The data comes from the National Health Interview Survey, which the CDC and the Census Bureau have been conducting for more than 50 years. The questions have sometimes changed, but until this year, the answers haven’t: More than 10% of respondents, and sometimes as many as 18% of Americans, have reported that they’ve been uninsured.
The clear factor is the Affordable Care Act’s push for coverage expansion, which kicked in almost two years ago. I spoke about the ACA’s role with several experts back in June, and you can easily see the law’s effects on the chart.
Nearly 16 million fewer Americans were uninsured in early 2015 compared to 2013.
And based on past precedent, there’s every expectation that the uninsured rate will continue to go down as enrollment in the ACA exchanges and Medicaid keeps going up.
For example, the CDC issues data on the uninsured rate throughout the year, and Wednesday’s results are based on surveys conducted between January and March of 2015. (Since it’s not full-year data, CDC calls it their early release program.) And last year’s equivalent early-release report, which surveyed Americans between January and March 2014, found that 13.1% of Americans were uninsured at the time. But after a full year’s worth of 2014 data, the number of uninsured was down to 11.5%.
CDC’s new report also plays up the divide between Medicaid expansion states and non-Medicaid expansion states.
In states that haven’t expanded in Medicaid, about 23% of residents under age-65 were uninsured in 2013; that’s down to about 17%. But in states thathave expanded Medicaid? The comparable uninsured rate has fallen from about 18.5% in 2013 to 10.5% this year.
I’ve already seen a few articles on this new data, but there are several important caveats that have been mostly overlooked.
One is that CDC’s report of sub-10% uninsured counts Medicare enrollees; among Americans ages 18-64, the uninsured rate is 13.0%.
And something else I haven’t seen reported is that the uninsured rate for America’s poor is still awfully high. About 28% of poor Americans and 24% of near-poor Americans didn’t have coverage, versus 7.5% of Americans who weren’t poor.
It’s also worth noting that the uptick in insurance coverage has been disproportionately driven by more people getting private health plans, as the chart below shows.
Of course, buying a health plan doesn’t cure all your woes. Plenty of plans sold through ACA exchanges are thin and force customers to pay many out-of-pocket costs. Democrats like Bernie Sanders are trying to make ”underinsurance” into a key political issue.
And there are still questions over who will pay for America’s growing health care bill.
But it’s also clear if you lack health coverage, becoming insured offers real benefits. More insurance improves your access to see a doctor, and reduces your problems paying for medical care.
Being insured even appears to cut down on your risk of death.
Having more insured customers is good for the health care industry, too. Hospitals are reporting huge jobs gains, and the health care sector is reporting its best 12-month stretch of new jobs in almost 25 years.