More than 5 million Americans who didn’t have health insurance before have been able to get coverage since September, according to a new report released Thursday.
The report seeks to answer one of the big questions surrounding the government statistics surrounding the law known as Obamacare — how many people have gained health insurance under the new rules? Early statistics had suggested that many of the people who rushed to buy the plans available on the new health insurance exchanges were just swapping out of other coverage.
But the new report suggests the law is having its intended effect of getting people covered who weren’t before.
“This represents a major step forward for 5.4 million previously uninsured people who now have health coverage,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which issued the report along with the Urban Institute.
The report shows that 15.2 percent of Americans were without health insurance as of the first week in March, a drop of 2.7 percentage points since September 2013.
The Obama administration says at least 7.1 million people signed up for private health insurance on the online, health insurance exchanges that opened up in October. Close to three million signed up in March alone, the last month for open enrollment, which is now closed.
Separately, the Obama administration says anyone who started to sign up and wasn't able to finish by the March 31 deadline has until April 15 to finish.
The exchanges are the centerpiece of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which seeks in part to get coverage to the 47 million Americans who lacked it as of 2013. The Congressional Budget Office projects that 26 million people will buy health insurance on the exchanges by 2022 and that 12 million people will become newly eligible for Medicaid in the states that choose to expand their offerings by 2022.
So far 26 states, plus the District of Columbia, have decided to offer Medicaid to more people as requested under the law. The report issued Thursday doesn’t include any separate estimates of how many people this might be, and also doesn’t include young adults added because of a provision allowing people to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.
“The survey does not capture the enrollment surge that occurred at the end of the open enrollment period,” the report adds — that would be the 3 million or more people who signed up in March.
But the findings suggest many people did get coverage through Medicaid.
“States that implemented the ACA's Medicaid expansion saw a larger decline: their uninsurance rates for adults dropped 4.0 percentage points since September, compared with a drop of 1.5 percentage points for the nonexpanding states,” the report reads.
“The average uninsurance rate for adults in the 24 nonexpanding states was 18.1 percent in March 2014, well above the 12.4 percent average in the expansion states.”
A different report issued last month by the Commonwealth Fund found that 32 million people were underinsured in 2012, meaning their health insurance didn’t do enough to cover their costs.
First published April 3 2014, 10:50 AM
Maggie Fox is senior health writer for NBC News and TODAY, writing top news on health policy, medical treatments and disease.
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She's a former managing editor for healthcare and technology at National Journal and global health and science editor for Reuters based in Washington, D.C. and London.
She's reported for news agencies, radio, newspapers, magazines and television from across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe covering news ranging from war to politics and, of course, health and science. Her reporting has taken Maggie to Lebanon, Syria and Libya; to China, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan; to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and to Ireland and Northern Ireland and across the rest of Europe.
Maggie has won awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, the National Immunization Program, the Overseas Press Club and other organizations. She's done fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland.