What new numbers on the uninsured do, and don’t, tell us about Obamacare
New figures released by the federal government Tuesday indicate that the number of people without health insurance dropped in early 2014, the first year the major provisions of the federal health law took effect.
But as with other data released so far this year on health insurance, it’s too early to provide a complete, or exact, picture of what impact Obamacare has had on coverage in Connecticut or the nation as a whole.
Here’s a look at what we can tell, and what we can’t, from the latest numbers.
What Tuesday’s numbers say
Two big sources of data came out Tuesday.
The National Health Interview Survey, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that the percentage of people in the country without health insurance dropped between 2013 and the first three months of this year, from an estimated 14.4 percent to 13.1 percent
The drop was largest among young adults aged 19 to 25 — from an estimated 26.5 percent uninsured last year to 20.9 percent in early 2014. The survey also found significant drops in the uninsured rate among blacks and Hispanics, two groups that have had higher uninsured rates than the overall population.
Those 2014 figures are based on interviews with 27,627 people and cover the first three months of the year. That means it offers some indication of how the uninsured rate changed under Obamacare, but didn’t capture the surge of people who signed up for coverage at the end of the enrollment period, many of whom didn’t become insured until May.
Separately, the U.S. Census Bureau released estimates of uninsured rates for the country and each state for 2013. Because the biggest coverage-related provisions of Obamacare took effect Jan. 1, 2014, the 2013 figures don’t reflect the major effects of the health law, but can be used as a baseline for evaluating changes in future years.
Census figures show Connecticut’s uninsured rate was largely unchanged from 2012 to 2013. The 2013 rate was 9.4 percent, with a margin of error of 0.4 percentage points, while the 2012 rate was 9.1 percent, with a margin of error of 0.3 percentage points. Those figures are based on the American Community Survey, one of two Census instruments, which asks if people had insurance at the time of the survey.
What we already knew
More concrete figures are already available to tell us about changes in the parts of the insurance market most affected by Obamacare.
We know from the Connecticut Insurance Department that the number of Connecticut residents purchasing their own insurance — which includes people who bought plans through Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange — rose by 55 percent, from 108,287 to 167,838, from November 2013 to June 30, 2014. Medicaid figures show that the number of people covered by that program rose from 626,519 in December 2013 to 739,524 in July.
What we don’t know is how the overall number of people with insurance in the state changed. In particular, we don’t know whether more or fewer people have coverage through their employers, which has long been the main source of health insurance in Connecticut. For that, stay tuned next fall.
There have been some surveys of overall insurance coverage, but none as broad as the Census. A recent Gallup survey estimated that Connecticut’s overall uninsured rate had fallen from 12.3 percent in 2013 to 7.4 percent this year. The 2014 figure has a 2 percentage point margin of error.
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