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NHIS shows ACA is working, but how well?

Health Insurance Coverage: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, January–March 2015

By Robin A. Cohen, Ph.D. and Michael E. Martinez, M.P.H., M.H.S.A.
National Center for Health Statistics, August, 2015

Highlights

  • The number of uninsured persons continued to decline from 2013. In the first 3 months of 2015, 29 million persons of all ages (9.2%) were uninsured at the time of interview, 7 million fewer persons than in 2014.
  • Among adults aged 18-64, the percentage uninsured decreased from 16.3% in 2014 to 13.0% in the first three months of 2015. There was a corresponding increase in private coverage, from 67.3% to 70.4%.
  • Among children under age 18 years, the percentage with private coverage increased from 52.6% in 2013 to 56.3% in the first 3 months of 2015, reversing a 14-year trend of declining rates of private coverage.
  • Among those under age 65, the percentage with private coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace or state-based exchanges increased from 2.5% (6.7 million) in the last three months of 2014 to 3.6% (9.7 million) in the first 3 months of 2015.

Estimates of enrollment in HDHPs and CDHPs

In the first 3 months of 2015, 36.0% of persons under age 65 with private health insurance were enrolled in an HDHP, including 13.3% who were enrolled in a CDHP [an HDHP with a health savings account (HSA)] and 22.7% who were enrolled in an HDHP without an HSA. Among those with private insurance, enrollment in an HDHP generally increased since 2010. However, the percentage who were enrolled in an HDHP did not significantly change between 2014 (36.9%) and the first 3 months of 2015 (36.0%).

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/insur201508.pdf

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Comment:

By Don McCanne, MD

The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) shows the success of implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in reducing the number of uninsured in the United States - down to 29.0 million, from a 2014 level of 36.0 million. Although it is great news to know that so many gained coverage, it is disappointing that 29 million will still remain uninsured. 

There is a bit of news in this report that could be significant. The rise in enrollment in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) has been of concern because they create financial barriers to care and result in personal financial hardships. This year the enrollment stayed flat - at 36.0% compared to 36.9% in 2014 - a statistically insignificant decline in the percentage. Although health savings accounts (HSAs) have been heavily promoted to help cover higher out-of-pocket expenses associated with HDHPs, 63% of those with private HDHPs did not have an HSA to help with those expenses. It is the deductible, not the savings account, that is the primary operative.

One of the more serious flaws of ACA is the increased use of HDHPs as a trade-off to keep insurance premiums more affordable. These HDHPs have been unpopular because of the medical bills patients are facing, but they have been selected anyway because of the lower premiums.

It will take more time to see if this flattening of the growth in HDHPs actually represents an increasing resistance to these plans or if it is just a random variation. Even if it does represent the early onset of a rebellion, individuals will still be faced with trying to balance premiums with out-of-pocket expenses - a dilemma inherent in the lower actuarial values of today’s typical private plans. A single payer system would eliminate this problem, not to mention that it would bring the percentage of uninsured down to zero.