Uninsured Numbers Drop Substantially

More than two-thirds of all Californians who were uninsured before Affordable Care Act implementation now have coverage, according to a study released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Among the Latino population, the numbers were even more striking. Excluding the undocumented population ineligible for ACA coverage, about 75% of the previously uninsured now have some form of health insurance, the study found.

“If you look at the top line number, where roughly two-thirds [of previously uninsured Californians] now have insurance, it’s now close to the norm to have coverage, for those eligible,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president and co-executive director for the program for the study of health reform and private insurance at KFF.

“The ACA has created a new norm for health insurance,” Levitt said. “There is the expectation that you will be covered.”

The Kaiser study is the third in a series of surveys conducted primarily by phone. Among the high points of Thursday’s panel survey results, compared with the previous 2013 survey:

  • Newly insured Californians now are much less likely to say it’s difficult to afford medical care (49% compared with 86% in the 2013 survey);
  • Newly insured Californians are much more likely to have a usual place of care (76% compared with 60%);
  • About 86% of the newly insured now say their health needs are being met; and
  • Newly insured are half as likely to report problems paying medical bills in the past year.

The bulk of the coverage increase has been due to Medi-Cal expansion, followed by employer coverage and insurance through Covered California.

“Latinos accounted for about one-half of the uninsured prior to expansion, so we’ve been watching carefully this group as the Affordable Care Act was implemented,” said Mollyann Brodie, senior vice president and executive director for public opinion and survey research at KFF.

“As soon as we account for undocumented, you can see the rates of enrollment [for Latinos and non-Latinos] are virtually identical, with 75% of those previously uninsured Latinos now having coverage.”

The most surprising statistic, Brodie said, was the dramatic change in financial stability for the newly insured.

“Those having coverage report being better off than those without coverage,” she said. “For those newly insured, this clearly shows the financial stability health insurance brings.”

Levitt said he expects to see more change in the coming year, when the tax penalties rise for those without health insurance.

“It will be interesting to watch what happens in the next year when the penalties ramp up,” Levitt said. “We’re really in uncharted territory here.”

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