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Newly Insured Are Happy with Affordable Care Act Coverage

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Now that millions of Health Insurance Marketplace policyholders have had several months to use their new coverage, researchers are discovering encouraging consumer satisfaction ratings. A recent survey shows that more than three in four enrollees report that they’re happy with their health plans.

Insurance Rates Show a Sizable Increase

Like other reviews of the recent health insurance reform effects, the Commonwealth Fund research group’s survey of almost 4500 American adults drew similar positive conclusions. The uninsured rate for the 19- to 64-year-old age group declined from 20 percent in July-September of 2013 to 15 percent in April-June of 2014. That means an estimated 9.5 million fewer adults are uninsured after the January 2014 roll out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Young adults under the age of 35 brought the largest gains in insured rates. For people with low and moderate incomes and Latinos, the uninsured rate fell substantially. Such improvement represents a significant first step toward the law’s goal of near-universal coverage. States’ decisions on whether or not to expand Medicaid had significant implications for the nation’s poorest people. In the 25 states and the District of Columbia that expanded their Medicaid programs by April, the uninsured rate for adults with incomes under 100 percent of the federal poverty level declined from 28 to 17 percent. But for states that retained their Medicaid programs, the rate remained 36 percent.

Private and Medicaid Plans Receive Notable Satisfaction Ratings

According to the Commonwealth survey, people who received new coverage are happy with their plans. Overall, 73 percent of insureds reported that they’re somewhat or very satisfied with their new health insurance. That number corresponds to an Associated Press poll from January that found 73 percent of all Americans with insurance before the healthcare law rollout were content with their coverage. The 87 percent of people who signed up for Medicaid claimed they’re somewhat or very satisfied with their new health plans. Although Democrats reported slightly higher satisfaction levels, roughly three out of four Republicans (74 percent) said they were happy with their new insurance. Of the people who had coverage before — including those with plans that insurance companies canceled — 77 percent are pleased with their new plans. Four of five people with new private or Medicaid coverage are optimistic that it will improve their ability to obtain the healthcare they need. More than half (58 percent) feel they’re better off now than before enrolling in their new insurance plans, compared to 9 percent who reported they’re worse off. About one in four said their new coverage hadn’t made a difference either way. Over half (54 percent) indicated that their new health plan networks included some or all of the doctors they wanted to use. Comparatively, 5 percent reported that their plans didn’t cover their preferred doctors. About four in 10 didn’t know.

Mandate Yields Positive Results

Larry Levitt, senior vice president for special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation, another research group that conducts Affordable Care Act polls, said he wasn’t sure that such high satisfaction would occur so early. The law’s requirement that Americans obtain insurance made him wonder whether people would be glad to have coverage if they felt the government forced them to purchase it. He suspected that people would feel the new law coerced them into buying insurance — even if they didn’t like their plans or felt they weren’t getting a good value. Luckily, that doesn’t seem to be happening. The Commonwealth Fund’s poll appears to be the first national survey since Congress passed the healthcare law that goes beyond basic insurance status questions. It includes extensive data on consumer reactions to the new health plans as well as patient usage.

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This survey also found that a majority of policyholders are using their new insurance. Some 60 percent of newly insured people reported using their new benefits at a doctor’s office or hospital by June. Of those, over 60 percent said they wouldn’t have been able to afford such care without their new coverage. Most people seeking new primary care doctors found that the process was relatively simple. They were able to schedule their appointments within two weeks. These usage statistics may indicate that the new plans are working as intended by offering easy access to affordable care. But perhaps more newly insured people have enrolled because of serious medical problems that require treatment, which could be expensive. Commonwealth found that about 70 percent of policyholders using their plans have pre-existing health conditions. Time will tell how costly this new population is to insure.

Future Growth Is Imminent

The figures from the Commonwealth Fund and other surveys fall roughly in line with the Congressional Budget Office’s projections regarding the ACA law’s first year. Based on previous government programs, the budget office projected that enrollment would continue to grow, further reducing the uninsured population. Despite extensive outreach efforts and considerable news coverage before, during and after the roll out, many people still reported being unaware of the new insurance marketplaces the law created. Even more didn’t know that subsidies are available to help people with qualifying incomes pay for coverage. Ignorance of the law occurred most often among those living in or near poverty, the people who could receive the greatest benefit and enjoy the highest satisfaction. Many Americans are saving even more money by using to fill their prescriptions.

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