Uninsured Number Dips — But Why?

Census results released Wednesday show a drop in the number of people without health insurance nationally, from 16.3% of Americans in 2010 down to 15.7% in 2011, about 1.4 million fewer uninsured across the country.

Given the weak economy, that was a welcome development to Kiwon Yoo, policy director of the Insure the Uninsured Project, based in Santa Monica.

“The biggest reason for that is the dependent coverage that kicked in,” Yoo said. “The numbers declined by about 2.2% in that age group, and that’s 3 million people nationally. That’s a big chunk of it.”

Yoo is referring to a provision of the Affordable Care Act that has already been implemented, ensuring that dependents can remain on their parents’ health plans till age 26.

 “In no other age group was there this kind of divide,” Yoo said. “Though there was almost a 1% decline in the 35-44 age group. Other age groups pretty much stayed the same.”

There was a decline in uninsured rate among the lower income groups, Yoo said, as Medicaid expanded during that time.

“Those results are not surprising per se,” she said, “but it is heartening to see people are already benefiting from the ACA. I can’t foresee why these numbers wouldn’t continue to decline.”

The Census figures show California’s uninsured rate actually increased during that time, from 19.4% to 19.7%, the fifth highest rate in the U.S.

But Yoo said the nationwide numbers point out a downward trend in the rate of the uninsured, and she said the lower national numbers don’t include the roughly one million Californians who have enrolled in the Low Income Health Plan  in the past year. That means that California’s uninsured numbers are likely to decline, she said.

“California is proactively trying to extend coverage to lower income individuals,” Yoo said. “Last year LIHP wasn’t fully implemented. So those numbers should look better [for California].”

The individual breakdown by state of uninsured numbers for 2010-11 — for instance, how many Californians are in the under-26 age group — should be available by the end of the year, Yoo said.

Once the Health Benefit Exchange starts in 2014, California’s uninsured numbers should start looking much better, Yoo said. She did say undocumented workers (with some estimates as high as two million) still won’t have coverage, as they’re not eligible under the ACA, and another 1.5 million are estimated to eschew coverage in the exchange or Medi-Cal, despite being eligible, Yoo said.

“However,” Yoo said, “with the exchange and with the expansion of Medicaid, the future doesn’t look nearly as bleak as it did before.”

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