UPDATED AT 12:10 P.M.
The federal government’s first survey of the nation’s insured rate since the health care law’s new marketplaces began found a decrease in the number of adults without coverage, particularly among young adults.
The National Health Interview Survey of people during the first three months of this year found that the number of adults under 65 without health insurance dropped to 18.4 percent from 20.4 percent in 2013. Among all ages, the survey found that the uninsured rate dropped to 13.1 percent from 14.4 percent in 2013; 41 million people still lacked insurance.
The survey, based on data for 27,627 people and released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provided an incomplete picture of the effect of federal health law, as its interviews occurred from January through March. Since the Obama administration estimated that nearly half of the 8 million people who signed up for Medicaid or private insurance plans in the new marketplaces did not do so until near or at the conclusion of the enrollment period at the end of March, many of those people’s new insurance status were not captured in the survey.
For the initial part of the year, the survey found the most pronounced drop in uninsured coverage among adults aged 19–25. That number decreased to 20.9 percent in the beginning of 2014 from 26.5 percent in 2013. Since its passage, the health law has allowed families to keep their children on their insurance plans until age 26, and private surveys since then found that many quickly signed up. The new survey found that the number of young adults obtaining public insurance such as Medicaid increased to 19.9 percent in the beginning of 2014 from 16.1 percent in 2013.
Two surveys released by the Census Bureau also on Tuesday offered their own estimates of the uninsured rate in 2013, but did not provide any information about how those numbers may have changed this year. The Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement found 42 million people, or 13.4 percent of the population, lacked insurance. The 2013 Annual Community Survey pegged the 2013 rate as slightly higher: 14.5 percent, a 0.2 percentage point decrease from 2012.
Usually the Current Population Survey, which interviewed people from about 98,000 households, is the benchmark for the nation’s uninsured rate. But it has less value than usual this year. By only covering 2013, it did not pick up the health law’s coverage expansion that began this year. In addition, the Census Bureau altered the questions it asked, complicating any effort to compare the results with those from previous years. (Last year’s report said that about 48 million people, or 15.4 percent, were uninsured in 2012, essentially the same as in 2011.)
Private groups have been tracking the uninsured rate in a more timely fashion than the Census has, finding reductions of 8 million or more in the number of adults without health insurance.
By early June, the Urban Institute, for instance, estimated that the uninsured rate for adults under 65 was 13.9 percent, down 4 percentage points from fall 2013, a change of 8 million. Another think tank, the RAND Corp., had a higher estimate of 9.3 million adults gaining coverage between September 2013 and March 20, bringing the uninsured rate down from 20.5 percent to 15.8 percent.
Other findings about health coverage in 2013 in the Current Population Survey that will be useful for comparison in future years include:
— Private insurance covered 64.2 percent of the population in 2013. Plans offered through employers covered the largest chunk of those people, comprising 53.9 percent of the population.
— Medicaid, the state and federal health program for the poor, covered 17.3 percent of the population in 2013. Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly and disabled, covered 15.6 percent.
–A quarter of Hispanics—24.3 percent—lacked insurance in 2013. For blacks, 15.9 percent didn’t have insurance, while 9.8 percent of non-Hispanic whites were uninsured.