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Study Paints Upbeat Picture of Exchange Coverage

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

July 10, 2014 -- The rate of uninsured Americans has dropped considerably due to policies sold through health law insurance exchanges, and many new enrollees have used their benefits and are optimistic they can get the care they need, according to a Commonwealth Fund survey released last week.

"It is clear the Affordable Care Act is already helping improve the lives of millions of Americans," said Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal, M.D., who led the Obama administration's early efforts to promote the adoption of health information technology.

The survey also examined how much of the Medicaid population remains uninsured. The rate fell from 28 percent of people with incomes below the poverty level to 17 percent in the 25 states that expanded their Medicaid programs. In the 25 states that didn't expand their programs, the rate stayed fairly constant with 36 percent remaining uninsured.

The findings came from a survey conducted from April 9, 2014 to June 2, 2014. It was based on telephone interviews with 4,425 adults age 19 to 64, the Fund said, adding that the sample was representative of some 186 million adults in that age bracket.

By the beginning of June, 60 percent of adults with new Medicaid or exchange coverage said they had used their plans to go to a doctor or hospital or fill a prescription. Of those, 62 percent said they would have not been able to afford or gain access to this treatment before getting their new insurance. Eighty-one percent with new benefits "said they were better off now than before they had their coverage," according to the Fund's summary of the results.

It said the biggest coverage gains occurred among adults of ages 19 to 34 whose uninsured rate fell from 28 percent to 18 percent. The rate among Latinos fell from 36 percent to 23 percent. Among low-income adults it dropped from 35 percent to 24 percent.

The survey estimated that by the end of the health law's first open enrollment period there were 9.5 million fewer U.S. adults who were uninsured. The national uninsured rate among working age adults dropped to 15 percent, down from 20 percent in July-September 2013.

Sixty-three percent of adults with new coverage obtained on exchanges or through Medicaid were uninsured before they got their new benefits. Forty-three percent of adults potentially eligible for coverage had shopped on exchanges by early June of 2014, compared to 24 percent in December.

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