Two-Thirds of Previously Uninsured Californians Now Insured Under the ACA

Health Insurance

August 1, 2015

A survey administered by The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that 68% of previously uninsured Californians obtained health insurance this year as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The increase was an improvement over last year, when the same Kaiser survey found a 56% drop in the uninsured population following the ACA’s first open-enrollment period.

The new survey provides further evidence of just how effective the ACA, also known as “Obamacare,” has been in improving health care coverage, particularly in California.

California has become a model for the rest of the nation, demonstrating how well the law works when a state fully buys in. Prior to the ACA’s roll out, California had the largest uninsured population in the country, with six million citizens living without health insurance. That population is rapidly shrinking, however, not only as a result of California establishing its own insurance marketplace, called Covered California, but also because of its decision to accept the ACA’s funding to expand its Medicaid program, Medi-Cal. In fact, 34% of California’s newly-insured gained their coverage through Medi-Cal, compared to 12% who went through Covered California, and 14% who gained coverage through their employers.

Californians who gained coverage through the ACA have largely been pleased with their plans, as well. Among the newly-insured, 86% said that their health care needs are now met either “Very well” or “Somewhat well.” That mark is a significant improvement from two years ago, when only 51% of respondents indicated that their health care needs were being well met.

Additionally, only 28% of the newly insured indicated that they had to wait longer than they would have liked for a doctor’s appointment. Most were able to find a doctor who accepted their insurance plans, as well. Only 17% of Medi-Cal recipients and 23% of those who purchased their plans through Covered California reported difficulty.

The ACA has been particularly beneficial to California’s large Latino population this year. According to NPR, Latinos made up nearly half of California’s uninsured population before President Barack Obama signed the ACA into law. This past year, the number of newly insured Latinos increased 74%, which was just five points behind the newly insured rate for whites.

As Latino Health points out, the plunging uninsured rate should also reduce the spread of HIV in California, thanks to the comparative ease of obtaining medication and treatment today. Getting more Californians covered should also make the anti-HIV pill, Truvada, widely available, which could dramatically decrease the rate of infection.

Of course, 32% of survey respondents reported that they are still uninsured. Bianca DiJulio, the Kaiser Foundation’s Director of Public Opinion and Survey Research, told NPR that the people who still lack health insurance generally fit into one of two categories. The first, which made up about 40% of the respondents who still lack health insurance, are undocumented immigrants, who are ineligible for coverage under the ACA. The second category is the long-time uninsured, who is generally more difficult to reach out to.

Even so, it is clear that the ACA has ushered in a new way of thinking about health care in California. Before the ACA, California’s large population of uninsured meant that there was widespread anxiety about the cost of health care. That is beginning to change now.

Sarah de Guia, the executive director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network explained to NPR how the ACA has helped to dispel some of the anxiety that the state’s newly-insured once experienced.
“This is really great news for California,” said de Guia. “There is this sense of relief, that they’re not one accident or incident away from bankruptcy. …They can keep their costs contained.”

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 85% of uninsured Californians cite paying for health care as their top financial concern. However, among Californians who have recently obtained insurance, health care is now just the fourth greatest financial concern, behind rent/mortgage, utilities, and gas.

Gerald Kominski, the Director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research told NPR what a big deal that is.

“It’s below the price of gas,” Kominski said of newly insured California’s concern over health care costs. “I found that truly remarkable … the fact that health care for people newly insured (is) no longer a primary concern, I think is significant.”

Indeed, the ACA has brought about some remarkably positive changes in California’s (and America’s) health care system. As the word spreads, more and more people should finally be able to obtain quality, affordable insurance, moving the United States closer to achieving the goal of true universal health care.