Fewer are uninsured, but...

Health Insurance Coverage: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, January–March 2016

By Robin A. Cohen, Ph.D.
Michael E. Martinez, M.P.H., M.H.S.A.
Emily P. Zammitti, M.P.H.

National Center for Health Statistics, September 2016

This report provides health insurance estimates from the first quarter of the 2016 National Health Interview Survey.

* In the first 3 months of 2016, 27.3 million (8.6%) persons of all ages were uninsured at the time of interview — 1.3 million fewer persons than in 2015 and 21.3 million fewer persons than in 2010.

* The percentage of persons under age 65 with private insurance enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) increased, from 25.3% in 2010 and 36.7% in 2015 to 40.0% in the first 3 months of 2016.

* In the first 3 months of 2016, among adults aged 18–64, 11.9% were uninsured at the time of interview, 19.5% had public coverage, and 70.2% had private health insurance coverage.

* Among adults aged 18–64, the 12-month increase in the percentage with private coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace or state-based exchanges — from 4.4% (8.6 million) in the first quarter of 2015 to 4.7% (9.2 million) in the first quarter of 2016 — was not statistically significant.

* In the first 3 months of 2016, among adults aged 18–64, 24.7% of those who were poor, 23.6% of near poor, and 6.5% of not poor lacked health insurance coverage at the time of interview.

* In the first 3 months of 2016, 24.5% of Hispanic, 13.0% of non-Hispanic black, 8.4% of non-Hispanic white, and 6.7% of non-Hispanic Asian adults aged 18–64 lacked health insurance coverage at the time of interview.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

Six years after the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, we have achieved less than half of the goal of covering all of the uninsured - a decline from 48.6 million in 2010 to 27.3 million earlier this year. Many are celebrating this as a great success, but others do not out of concern for the 27 million who remain uninsured. Besides, there are many other observations in this report that should concern advocates of health care justice for all.

Although 21.3 million uninsured gained coverage since 2010, the further reduction in the uninsured in the past year - 1.3 million - was not statistically significant. This suggests that we are close to the flat of the curve. The feasible patches to ACA are very unlikely to have much more than a negligible impact in further reducing the numbers of uninsured. We need a system that is designed to cover absolutely everyone, such as a single payer national health program.

For adults under 65, 70 percent are privately insured, predominantly through employer sponsored plans. Only 4.7% are insured through the exchanges. Those who dreamed that the nation would swarm to the exchanges because of their superior competitive markets of private plans (HHS even changed the name from exchange to marketplace) had better go back to their drawing boards, and think “improved Medicare for all”.

Perhaps the most alarming trend is the increase in enrollment in high deductible health plans (HDHP). For those under age 65, the percentage has increased from 25.3% in 2010 to 40.0% earlier this year. This has been responsible for much of the financial hardship caused by medical bills for those who are insured. The system is not working well for them, and it is getting worse.

Some say that the answer to high deductible plans is to include health savings accounts (HSA), making them consumer-directed health plans (CDHP). But three-fifths of those with HDHPs do not even have an HSA, and for many of the other two-fifths, the HSAs are inadequately funded. Pretending that deductibles can be paid with empty or nonexistent savings accounts is not sound health policy.

Another concern is that the uninsured rates are higher amongst the poor, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic blacks. Although much still needs to be done to reduce inequities in health care, the task remains much more difficult without adopting an equitable health care financing system (single payer).

So when you see headlines this week stating that the number of uninsured is at an all time low, don’t think, “a job well done.” It wasn’t.