Census Figures Show Unprecedented Gains in Insurance Coverage
Number of Uninsured Drops by 100,000 in Wisconsin in 2014
The number of people with health care coverage took an unprecedented jump last year, during the first year of implementation of key parts of the federal health care reform law. The number of uninsured Americans dropped in 2014 by 8.5 million, including 100,000 fewer uninsured Wisconsinites (a 19% drop).
The new numbers, which were released today by the Census Bureau, provide the first comprehensive data on how the federal health care reform law affected insurance rates in 2014, after key portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took effect. The new figures come from the American Community Survey (ACS), and some of the highlights include the following:
- The percentage of Americans who are uninsured dropped from 14.5% in 2013 to 11.7% in 2014.
- Wisconsin went from a 9.1% uninsured rate in 2013 to 7.3% in 2014.
Additional data released today, coming from the Current Population Survey, suggest that the health insurance gains can’t be attributed to economic improvements. We will get better state-level data on income and poverty tomorrow, but the national CPS data indicate that median household income and the poverty level were both unchanged in 2014.
Although the gains in insurance coverage were very impressive last year, the new figures only reflect a portion of the total gains in insurance coverage that have occurred since the beginning of 2014 because the new numbers are based on surveys conducted during each month of 2014, rather than at the end of the year. In addition, the latest ACS figures don’t reflect continued gains in coverage in 2015.
Recent figures from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) indicate that the number of uninsured Americans was 7 million lower during the first three months of 2015 than the average during 2014 – reaching a total two-year reduction of 15.8 million people. A WCCF paper released on Monday explains in more detail why the uninsured rate in Wisconsin will be much lower in 2015 than the 2014 ACS figures indicate, and this bar graph helps make that point.
Wisconsin continued in 2014 to have one of the lowest percentages of uninsured state residents – 7th lowest. However, Wisconsin’s uninsured rate of 7.3% trails two of its neighbors, Minnesota and Iowa, where the uninsured rates are 5.9% and 6.2%, respectively. I think Wisconsin is lagging those two states because they have taken advantage of the portion of the health care reform law that helps states expand Medicaid eligibility to cover all adults up to 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL).
Although Wisconsin partially expanded Medicaid coverage for childless adults – making those below the poverty level eligible for BadgerCare – state lawmakers sharply reduced eligibility for parents, which caused roughly 60,000 parents to lose their BadgerCare coverage. Wisconsin’s current income ceiling for BadgerCare disqualifies a single mother with one child if her income is more than $7.66 per hour.
Among the 25 states (including the District of Columbia) that had expanded Medicaid by the beginning of 2014, the average reduction in the number of uninsured people was 25 percent last year, compared to just 13% in the “non-expansion” states. As a state that partially expanded BadgerCare eligibility for childless adults and reduced coverage for parents, Wisconsin is in the middle nationally, with a 19% decrease in the number of uninsured state residents.
The bottom line is that the health care reform law has been a huge success in improving access to health insurance, even among states like Wisconsin that have resisted parts of the law. However, Wisconsin could be doing much better if it took advantage of the ACA to expand BadgerCare eligibility for low-income working adults, many of whom are currently unable to afford health insurance.