Exchange says Obamacare helped close racial, ethnic coverage gaps

Access Health CEO Jim Wadleigh (left), Chris Barnes of The Pert Group, and a talking point

Access Health CEO Jim Wadleigh (left), Chris Barnes of The Pert Group, and a talking point

Black and Hispanic Connecticut residents were more likely than others to be uninsured before the rollout of the federal health law, and new data suggest that the first sign-up period for coverage under Obamacare made a dent in that disparity.

The data, based on a survey of people who signed up for coverage through the state’s health insurance exchange, also show that close to three-quarters of enrollees have used their coverage to obtain medical care. Among those who bought private insurance through the exchange, 76 percent said they have a primary-care physician, as did 66 percent of Medicaid enrollees.

Exchange officials announced the data at a press conference Wednesday, deeming it evidence that their program was working and pledging to use the findings to inform future enrollment efforts. The next sign-up period begins Nov. 15, and will bring the dual challenge of trying to retain current customers and reach those who remain uninsured and could face steeper barriers to getting coverage.

“Our customers are using the system,” said Jim Wadleigh, chief executive of the exchange, Access Health CT. “Connecticut residents are able to see their primary-care physicians, and they’re getting healthier.”

During the first open enrollment period, which ran from Oct. 1, 2013, through March 31, 78,713 people signed up for private insurance and 129,588 people enrolled in Medicaid through the exchange.

The makeup of the customer base has been a big question for both supporters and critics of the health law. While the age of people signing up was available throughout the enrollment period, other data, including race and ethnicity, and whether those signing up had been uninsured, wasn’t consistently collected, making it difficult to determine the extent to which the enrollment effort was affecting the uninsured. The health status of the new members, which could play a big role in the cost of insurance in the future, also remains unclear.

Access Health commissioned a survey of members earlier this year. The agency released some information Wednesday, but isn’t making the full survey results available until Thursday.

The findings released Wednesday include:

  • Eighty-three percent of the exchange’s private insurance customers and 91 percent of those who signed up for Medicaid reported being extremely, very or somewhat satisfied with the enrollment process.
  • Fifty-four percent of exchange customers had been uninsured in the year before signing up. People who qualified for Medicaid were more likely to have been uninsured: 62 percent went without coverage during the previous year, as did 43 percent of private insurance enrollees.
  • More than four in 10 customers signed up for coverage online without assistance. The call center was the second most popular method for signing up, used by 18 percent of private insurance customers and 24 percent of people enrolled in Medicaid.

The survey also indicated that the exchange has helped many black and Hispanic Connecticut residents gain health care coverage.

Census figures show blacks and Hispanics make up 23.4 percent of Connecticut’s population. But data used by Access Health before the start of last fall’s enrollment period indicated that of the state’s uninsured, 25 percent were Hispanic and 12 percent were black.

Among people who bought private insurance through Access Health, 13 percent were black and 13 percent were Hispanic. Of those signing up for Medicaid, 22 percent were black and 22 percent were Hispanic.

Blacks and Hispanics who signed up for coverage were also more likely to have been uninsured in the past than their white counter parts. Of the black customers surveyed, 68 percent had been uninsured in the past year. So had 63 percent of Hispanic customers and 46 percent of white customers.

The research, conducted by The Pert Group of Farmington, included a 5-minute telephone survey of 6,015 exchange customers. Of those, 1,363 answered a more detailed survey.

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