According to a recent survey conducted by RAND Corp, nearly 17 million people now have health insurance thanks to Obamacare. This tally represents the total number of people who have obtained insurance since the first open enrollment period began back in September 2013. Following the same consumers through the end of the second enrollment period in February 2015, the longitudinal study analyzes how insurance has changed for many Americans in a post-ACA society. The poll also takes into account the number of people who have dropped coverage during the 18-month period, which results in a net gain of about 16.9 million.
Better Insurance Options Nationwide
One of the ACA’s primary goals was to grant people access to better and more affordable coverage nationwide, and the new survey suggests that this goal has been accomplished. Not only have people taken advantage of federal subsidies to buy insurance via state and federal marketplaces, but more people than ever before have signed up for coverage under Medicaid. The ACA expanded the government-sponsored program for low-income families, and to date, 29 states along with Washington, D.C. have opted to participate in the expansion. Four additional states are discussing expansion while the remaining 17 have chosen to forgo expansion for the time being.
Those states that haven’t expanded Medicaid may change their tune as popularity for the program increases in light of recent data. The RAND poll, for example, reports that about 6.5 million people signed up for Medicaid under the new guidelines thanks to the ACA, which represents more than a third of the total number of people who gained insurance under the new law.
Still, Medicaid isn’t the largest source of insurance in the United States. The survey reported that about 9.6 million newly insured consumers signed up for coverage through their employers. In fact, employer-sponsored coverage remains the leading source of insurance as it always has. When the law first took effect, opponents claimed that many employers would drop covered employees from existing plans, forcing their staff to find private coverage or put up with reduced hours.
In reality, very few people lost their coverage for good due to changes made by the new law. Approximately 8.5 million people lost coverage temporarily when employers around the country changed their insurance policies to meet the requirements of the ACA. Of the 8.5 million people who lost their insurance, just 600,000 remained uninsured once the changes took place. Everyone else found better options on the marketplace, enrolled in a new plan through work or found another source of insurance. As Bloomberg Business points out, “more than half of the 43 million people who started out uninsured in September 2013 had health insurance 18 months later.”
The RAND survey found that about 11.2 million people had gained insurance due to the health insurance exchanges. Marketplaces may not account for the highest percentage of the insured population, but they can be considered a significant source of coverage. Under the new law, more people can afford health insurance thanks in large part to the subsidies offered on these exchanges. Recent estimates report that nearly 90 percent of consumers who use the marketplace to buy insurance take advantage of federal subsidies to help pay for premiums.
Limitations of the Survey
The researchers who conducted the survey admit that the poll includes some limitations. For example, they surveyed just 1,589 enrollees, and the rate of response was only about 9 percent. These limitations may impact long-term estimates about the total number of enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. In addition, respondents to the survey may have been confused about the terminology used since some consumers don’t understand the distinction between Medicaid and other similar government programs. On the positive side, researchers note that a longitudinal study affords better accuracy in terms of recall. By staying with the same group of respondents throughout the survey, researchers have a better chance of gauging real-time responses.
Despite the limitations, researchers are confident that their survey represents an accurate picture of the insured population under Obamacare. Many of their findings closely relate to the numbers reported on by the Department of Health and Human Services as well as government analysts. Discrepancies may be attributed to a smaller sampling size or the fact that total numbers have not yet been released by federal officials for the same 18-month time period. The fact remains that more Americans now have health insurance thanks to the new law, and the trend should continue as the ACA heads into its third enrollment period this fall.