Ken Carlson

County Pulse: Report says California’s uninsured rate has fallen

The percentage of Americans who lack health insurance dropped to an all-time low of 13.4 percent after the first Affordable Care Act enrollment period, according to a Gallup and Healthways survey.

The latest figure was derived from interviews with more than 45,000 people between April 1 and June 30. The nation’s uninsured rate climbed to a record 18 percent last summer, just months before federal law required that individuals have medical insurance or pay a penalty. The rate has dropped 3.7 percentage points from 17 percent in late 2013, Gallup said.

State exchanges were established to offer health plans during the Oct. 1 to March 31 enrollment period. A large percentage of eligible consumers used tax credits to reduce their monthly premiums. According to the Commonwealth Fund, about 60 percent of those with new insurance or Medicaid benefits have seen doctors or filled prescriptions.

According to the online consumer service WalletHub, California’s uninsured rate fell from 21 percent to 14 percent after the inaugural enrollment period. About 1.4 million residents signed up for coverage through the Covered California exchange.

California ranked 28th among states that lowered their uninsured rates post-Obamacare. In Massachusetts, which passed a model health reform law in 2006, just 4 percent of the population lacked insurance before Obamacare, and the rate is now a national best at 1.2 percent, WalletHub said.

Almost 25 percent of Texans still are uninsured, and the rate is above 20 percent in Mississippi and Louisiana. It’s estimated that 12 million people nationwide signed up for coverage.

Research institutes have reached no consensus on the percentage of new enrollees who were previously insured. Many consumers replaced their insurance with lower-cost exchange plans and some states canceled individual-market plans that did not meet the new standards.

To compute the uninsured rates, WalletHub relied on a Kaiser Family Foundation estimate that 57 percent of Obamacare enrollees had no prior insurance. That’s significantly higher than a Rand Corp. estimate of 28 percent.

California was swamped with applications for Medi-Cal, the state and federal health program for the poor. Last month, state officials reported a backlog of 600,000 Medi-Cal applications.

In a June 27 letter, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ordered California and five other states to work harder on eliminating their backlogs. The California Department of Health Care Services was given 10 days to prepare a plan to reduce the pile of applications.