Progress in covering low- and moderate-income populations falters

Americans' Experiences with ACA Marketplace and Medicaid Coverage: Access to Care and Satisfaction

By Sara R. Collins, Munira Gunja, Michelle M. Doty, Sophie Beutel
The Commonwealth Fund, May 25, 2016 


The fourth wave of the Commonwealth Fund Affordable Care Act Tracking Survey, February–April 2016, finds at the close of the third open enrollment period that the working-age adult uninsured rate stands at 12.7 percent, statistically unchanged from 2015 but significantly lower than 2014 and 2013. Uninsured rates in the past three years have fallen most steeply for low-income adults though remain higher compared to wealthier adults. ACA marketplace and Medicaid coverage is helping to end long bouts without insurance, bridge gaps when employer insurance is lost, and improve access to health care. Sixty-one percent of enrollees who had used their insurance to get care said they would not have been able to afford or access it prior to enrolling. Doctor availability and appointment wait times are similar to those reported by insured Americans overall. Majorities with marketplace or Medicaid coverage continue to be satisfied with their insurance.

Exhibit 2: Uninsured Rates Among Low-Income Adults Have Fallen the Most But Remain Substantially Higher Than Those For Adults with Higher Incomes

People with low and moderate incomes — the population targeted in particular by the ACA’s reforms — had the highest uninsured rates prior to the law’s enactment and subsequently have experienced the greatest gains in coverage by far. But after declining steeply in 2014, uninsured rates for adults with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,243 for an individual and $33,465 for a family of four) have remained about the same. Similarly, uninsured rates for those with incomes between 138 percent and 249 percent of poverty ($29,425 for an individual and $60,625 for a family of four) had fallen by half by 2015 but remain nearly the same this year. Consequently, low- and moderate-income adults are uninsured at rates as much as 10 times higher as those for adults with higher incomes.

Conclusion and Policy Implications

After falling sharply in 2014 upon rollout of the ACA’s major coverage expansions, the uninsured rate for U.S. working-age adults has been declining at a slower pace. The chasm in insurance coverage between lower- and higher-income adults remains troubling. We will explore the possible reasons for this in a forthcoming brief.

In each year since the coverage expansions, our survey findings have indicated that overall enrollment has been propelled by people who were previously uninsured — a year or longer for the vast majority. Consistent with other national surveys and Congressional Budget Office analyses, enrollment has not been driven by people shifting out of employer coverage: the share of adults insured through an employer has declined only slightly since 2013. The survey findings do suggest that for people who lose their job-based health benefits, the expanded insurance options may be helping to bridge the coverage gap.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been effective in reducing the numbers of uninsured, particularly amongst low-income adults. Although that is good news, we should be alarmed that “low- and moderate-income adults are uninsured at rates as much as 10 times higher as those for adults with higher incomes,” and that there has been little improvement in enrollment for these lower income levels since the initial steep decline in 2014.

When ACA was constructed, it was decided that the employer-sponsored plans should be left largely alone to continue to fulfill the role of covering the majority of middle- and higher-income individuals and families. The greatest need was for the uninsured low-income and uninsured moderate-income sectors of the population. Thus two of the more important design features of ACA were to expand Medicaid for low-income individuals and to offer income-indexed tax credits and subsidies for private plans offered through the ACA exchanges (Marketplace).

How successful has the plan to cover those with greater financial needs been? As stated, uninsurance for those with low and moderate incomes has stabilized at a rate 10 times higher than those with higher incomes. Except for an initial surge, ACA has failed to achieve the goal of covering these more vulnerable populations.

They would have all been covered under a single payer system. Not only that, the ACA model of reform is the most expensive model of all, yet falls miserably short in universality, efficiency and equity. The least expensive comprehensive models of reform that would have actually achieved these goals are single payer Medicare for all or a government owned and operated national health service.

Although “socialism” has become less of a pejorative in the United States, the majority of residents would prefer the social insurance model of Medicare for all rather than socialized medicine through a national health service model. Now that ACA has been demonstrated to be an over-priced failure, we should move on with establishing an Improved Medicare for All.