One of the key measures of whether the Affordable Care Act is working, the number of Americans without health insurance, continues to show great progress. Only a couple years ago, the percentage uninsured was over 17%; now it’s at 12.9%, according to Gallup.
The uninsured rate among U.S. adults for the fourth quarter of 2014 averaged 12.9%. This is down slightly from 13.4% in the third quarter of 2014 and down significantly from 17.1% a year ago. The uninsured rate has dropped 4.2 percentage points since the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for Americans to have health insurance went into effect one year ago.
The uninsured rate declined sharply in the first and second quarters last year as more Americans signed up for health insurance through federal and state exchanges. After the open enrollment period closed in mid-April, the rate leveled off at around 13%. The 12.9% who lacked health insurance in the fourth quarter is the lowest Gallup and Healthways have recorded since beginning to track the measure daily in 2008. The 2015 open enrollment period began in the fourth quarter on Nov. 15 and will close on Feb. 15.
Which means it will probably decline a bit more after the end of the 2015 open enrollment period. Equally important:
While the uninsured rate has declined across nearly all key demographic groups since the Affordable Care Act went into effect a year ago, it has plunged most among blacks and lower-income Americans. The uninsured rate among blacks dropped seven points over the past year, while the rate among Americans earning less than $36,000 in annual household income dropped 6.9 points.
There are two other key measures of whether the ACA is succeeding:
1. The rate of growth in the cost of health insurance premiums and health care overall.
2. The percentage of health care that is unpaid.
On that second measure, things are already improving. As more people have insurance, fewer visits to hospitals will go unpaid. That should also improve the first measure, though that may be balanced off by the fact that more people will be seeing doctors that could not have done so before.