CDC survey shows uninsured rate dropping to historic 9.2 percent

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

The uninsured rate among all Americans in the first quarter of this year dropped to 9.2 percent, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, released Wednesday.

This is estimated to be the lowest rate of all uninsured Americans, of all ages, since 1972, when the center began reporting on that data from the National Health Interview Survey, Reena Flores reported for CBS News.

Researchers at NCHS explained Thursday that they have not calculated the uninsured rate for all ages every year in part because the survey methodology has changed. But because the uninsured rate for those under age 65 was 10.7 percent from January to March of 2015 and 10.7 percent is the lowest since 1972, then it is safe to assume that the 9.2 percent rate for all ages also is the lowest rate since 1972, they said.

That 9.2 percent represents 29 million Americans who were uninsured from January to March of this year and is 7 million fewer than those uninsured last year, the center said. For the survey, NCHS interviewed 26,121 noninstitutionalized Americans.

Among adults aged 18 to 64, the percentage of those uninsured dropped from 16.3 percent last year to 13.0 percent in January to March of this year. At the same time, there were increases in the percentage of Americans who had private health insurance coverage (from 67.3 percent to 70.4 percent) and in the percentage of Americans covered by public insurance programs (such as Medicare and Medicaid), which rose to 18.1 percent from 17.7 percent last year. (See Figure 1.)

Cohen RA, Martinez ME, Health Insurance Coverage: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, Division of Health Interview Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics. January–March 2015.

Cohen RA, Martinez ME, Health Insurance Coverage: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, Division of Health Interview Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics. January–March 2015.

The report did not say why the uninsured rate declined or why the rate of those with private and public insurance rose. But as Jonathan Cohn wrote for the Huffington Post, “… the timing and characteristics of the trend make the primary reason obvious: It’s President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.”

The percentage of children under age 18 who have private health insurance also rose. The rate increased from 52.6 percent in 2013 to 56.3 in the first quarter of 2015, the center said. This increase reversed of 14-year trend of declining rates of private coverage for children.

The number of Americans under age 65 who got private insurance coverage through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace or state exchanges rose from 6.7 million (2.5 percent) in the last quarter of 2014 to 9.7 million (3.6 percent) in the first three months of this year, the center said.

Decline also seen in Gallup survey

Results from another survey, the Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index, indicates that the uninsured rate fell from 17.3 percent in the full year of 2013 to 11.7 percent in the first half of 2015.

Of significance is that the Gallup-Healthways survey shows the uninsured rate in all 50 states. The uninsured rate is 5.2 percent in Hawaii, for example, and Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont all have rates under 5.3 percent. From 2008 through last year, only Massachusetts was at or below 5 percent, Gallup-Healthways said. In no state did Gallup-Healthways report a statistically significant rise in the percentage of uninsured in the first half of 2015 compared with 2013.

Gallup-Healthways shows the 10 states with the largest reductions of the percentage of the uninsured from 2013 through the first half of this year. Since the individual mandate became effective under the ACA in 2014, Arkansas and Kentucky saw the sharpest reductions in their uninsured rates. In Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington state, there was a reduction in uninsured rates of at least 10 percentage-points.

Data for the Gallup-Healthways report comes from telephone interviews done from Jan. 2 to Dec. 30 in 2013 and from Jan. 2 to June 30 this year. In 2013, Gallup-Healthways interviewed 178,072 adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia aged 18 and older. In the most recent survey, researchers interviewed 88,667 adults.

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