Access Health CT says uninsured rate lower than Census figures

This is a picture of Jim Wadleigh

Arielle Levin Becker / CTMirror.org

Jim Wadleigh

Connecticut’s health insurance exchange released an analysis Thursday suggesting that the state’s uninsured rate this year is 3.8 percent, significantly lower than the 6.9 percent the U.S. Census Bureau recently reported for last year.

While state and exchange officials praised the results and said they showed Connecticut has one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country, the estimated uninsured rate comes with some caveats.

Rather than conduct a broad survey, as the Census does, the firm that conducted the analysis used data on insurance coverage and results from a survey of exchange customers. But the analysis didn’t include data on the number of people who have coverage through their jobs this year, even though research indicates that the majority of Connecticut residents have employer-sponsored insurance.

Instead, the number of uninsured was projected based on estimates of how many exchange customers were previously uninsured or had dropped coverage, without accounting for changes in employer-sponsored coverage.

The estimate also assumed that people with coverage stayed enrolled for the full year, although experts say it’s not uncommon for people to move between coverage types, or on and off coverage, throughout the year. In the past 12 months, for example, enrollment in Connecticut’s Medicaid program has fluctuated from 758,001 last October to 704,316 in August 2015. Enrollment in plans purchased through the exchange, Access Health CT, dropped from 110,095 in March to 95,601 this month.

The analysis, conducted by the Farmington research firm Acturus – formerly known as the Pert Group – was based on a 2014 estimate the firm developed, suggesting that the state’s uninsured rate was 4 percent. That was derived by subtracting the number of exchange customers who were previously uninsured from the state’s earlier uninsured rate, without accounting for changes in employer-sponsored insurance or other parts of the market.

For this year’s analysis, Acturus projected the uninsured rate by using its 2014 estimate as a baseline. The firm estimated that some additional people had become uninsured since then, and subtracted the number of new exchange customers – people who bought private insurance or signed up for Medicaid – who were previously uninsured. The firm also accounted for people who, according to a survey of Access Health’s current and former members, had dropped coverage and were now uninsured.

This year’s analysis also included an overall picture of the state’s insurance market, based on enrollment data from Access Health, individual-market enrollment figures reported by insurers to the Connecticut Insurance Department, statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s analysis of 2013 Census data and information from Acturus’ survey of Access Health customers. The analysis estimated the number of people covered by employer-sponsored insurance by subtracting other types of coverage and its estimate of uninsured residents from the total population.

Census figures, by contrast, are based on surveys that ask people whether they have insurance.

Access Health Chief Executive Jim Wadleigh said that if the most recent Census estimate – which reported that about 245,000 people in Connecticut were uninsured in 2014 – is accurate, “Then what that would tell us is we’re actually doing a pretty poor job of reaching the uninsured and everything that we’re doing from a marketing perspective is wrong.”

Wadleigh said the exchange has found that it is difficult to find uninsured people to sign up, which he said would not be the case if the uninsured rate were still close to 7 percent.

It’s important to have an accurate sense of the state’s uninsured rate, Wadleigh said, for the exchange to ensure that its marketing campaigns and other efforts are working.

Another survey, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, reported earlier this year that Connecticut’s uninsured rate dropped to 5 percent during the first six months of 2015.

Open enrollment for coverage for 2016 begins Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31. Access Health officials said they’re aiming for 105,000 to 115,000 people to purchase private health plans through the exchange, including both existing and new customers.

Those who don’t have insurance in 2016 – and who don’t qualify for an exemption to the law requiring most Americans to have coverage – will have to pay a fine of either 2.5 percent of their annual household income or $695 per person, whichever is higher.

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