More than half the people who bought insurance through new Obamacare exchanges were previously uninsured, according to a survey that runs counter to reports earlier this year.
About 57 percent of customers in the exchanges, government- run marketplaces created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, lacked insurance at the time they bought a plan, the Kaiser Family Foundation said today in a report. A separate study predicted modest increases in 2015 premiums.
The issue is of political significance to President Barack Obama, who pushed the health law through Congress with the promise it would reduce the nation’s population of uninsured people, about 48 million strong. Republicans have complained that the law largely forced millions of Americans to change their insurance plans.
“There are many aims of the Affordable Care Act but arguably the most important is it reduced the number of Americans uninsured,” Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at Kaiser, said in a phone interview.
The Obama administration hasn’t offered any estimate on the law’s impact on the U.S. uninsured population, instead pointing to outside surveys that have found a reduction since the beginning of the year. Gallup has reported that the U.S. uninsured rate reached its lowest level in five years, 13.4 percent, and attributed the reduction to the health law.
“There are still some missing pieces to the puzzle in knowing that number,” Levitt said, including how many previously uninsured people enrolled in Medicaid and how the law affected health plans provided by employers. The Kaiser survey “gives us a good sense that the exchanges have certainly made a difference in covering people who were uninsured,” he said.
Republicans have remained critical. “We still don’t know who paid, who qualifies for their subsidies, who had their plan canceled under Obamacare, who is still able to see their trusted doctor, and if there’s anyone actually saving the $2,500 per year the president promised,” Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who is vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in an e-mail from a spokeswoman.
Reports released in March by McKinsey & Co. and by the Rand Corp. in April indicated that fewer than half of exchange customers were uninsured in 2013. The Kaiser survey used different methodology, asking whether customers were uninsured at the time they bought an exchange plan.
About 71 percent of those who were uninsured at the time of their purchase had lacked coverage for two years or more, Kaiser found.
Newly insured Americans in many states are expected to see their premiums rise modestly next year, Avalere Health, a consulting firm in Washington, said yesterday in a separate study. Rate increases proposed by insurers and made public in nine states so far average 8 percent for “silver” plans, mid- level coverage that has been the most popular option under the health law.
The finding “seems to imply that competition is working and managing to hold down premium growth,” Caroline Pearson, a vice president at Avalere, said in a phone interview. Premiums in the U.S. market for individual insurance rose about 10 percent or more on average in the three years before the Affordable Care Act was passed, according to The Commonwealth Fund, a New York nonprofit organization.
Of the nine states Avalere examined, proposed increases are highest in Indiana, at 16 percent on average. Oregon is the only state so far where insurers have proposed an average rate cut, by 1.4 percent. The 2015 rates are subject to review by state regulators and aren’t yet final.
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