Who Are the Remaining Uninsured, and What Do Their Characteristics Tell Us About How to Reach Them?

By Linda J. Blumberg, Michael Karpman, Matthew Buettgens, and Patricia Solleveld
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Urban Institute, March 2016

From the Introduction

Although the ACA was not designed to eliminate uninsurance, a detailed assessment of those remaining uninsured after reform can provide insight into the potential to increase coverage further.

Main Findings

*  According to the CPS-ASEC, 32.9 million nonelderly residents of the United States remained uninsured as of March 2015, constituting 12.2 percent of the total non-elderly, civilian, non-institutionalized population of the country.

*  The rate of uninsurance is significantly higher in (Medicaid) nonexpansion states, where 15.4 percent of the nonelderly are uninsured compared with only 10.1 percent in expansion states, a relative difference of over 50 percent.

*  About 28 percent of the uninsured are eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (Medicaid/CHIP), and 21 percent are eligible for marketplace tax credits.

*  Fully 66.5 percent of uninsured children are eligible for Medicaid/CHIP compared with only 20.6 percent of uninsured adults.

*  We posit that the uninsured who are eligible for the greatest amount of financial assistance under the ACA — 12.4 million uninsured in total — are those for whom additional outreach and enrollment efforts are likely to be most successful.

*  Absent further policy changes (e.g., more states expanding Medicaid, increased financial assistance, and expanded eligibility for assistance), we do not expect that a substantial share of the other uninsured — who constitute 20.6 million of the total — will gain coverage.

*  Targeting of resources to those 12.4 million uninsured with the greatest potential to enroll in either Medicaid/CHIP or marketplace coverage can be improved by understanding their characteristics.

From the Conclusion

Our analysis of the CPS-ASEC combined with past work on program participation rates and case studies on insurance enrollment behavior under the ACA suggests that two subpopulations of the uninsured have the most promise in further expanding coverage: the Medicaid eligible and the low-income marketplace tax credit eligible. These are the uninsured eligible for the most comprehensive coverage at the lowest direct cost under current law, and those eligible for this level of assistance have relatively high rates of participation in health insurance programs. Together, these subgroups account for 37.5 percent of the remaining uninsured, or approximately 12.4 million people.

Under current law, however, expectations of increasing coverage substantially among the other 62.5 percent of the remaining uninsured should be tempered. Although some additional coverage within these groups is likely as the individual mandate penalties increase and information on available coverage alternatives spread further, gains are likely to be quite modest unless further financial assistance is provided.

http://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2016/rwjf427898

Perhaps the most important statement in this report on the remaining uninsured is the following: “The ACA was not designed to eliminate uninsurance.” It should be no surprise that we are left with trying to figure out why so many are uninsured and who they are when the architects of the Affordable Care Act abandoned, in advance, any effort to make health care insurance truly universal.

If there is good news in this report it is that there are two groups in which, with concerted effort, we can increase rates of enrollment: the uninsured eligible for Medicaid/CHIP, and the lower-income uninsured eligible for government subsidies for ACA exchange plans. These eligible individuals are more likely to accept coverage because government subsidies make it free or very low cost to them. But those eligible are still a minority of the uninsured – 12.4 million individuals.

The majority of the uninsured – 62.5 percent, 20.6 million individuals – have no publicly-supported programs available for them and are likely to remain uninsured. It has been suggested that we can expand coverage through incremental changes in ACA, but, because of political, logistical and financial barriers, it would be very difficult to design add-on programs that would be effective in bringing these individuals under the coverage umbrella.

Another problem is that a static picture at one point in time does not lead to policies that would address the instability in coverage due to changes in income, employment, age, residency, and other requirements that determine the type of coverage for which an individual may or may not be eligible. As we work on the front end to expand coverage to the currently uninsured, people are falling off of the back end as they lose their coverage and may face new barriers to transitioning to other programs. This instability makes it virtually impossible to ever cover everyone simultaneously under our fragmented system that has been perpetuated by ACA.

So do we want everyone insured? I would say absolutely yes, but it is not going to happen under a system that was clearly not designed to do that. In contrast, an Improved Medicare for All would be designed to actually cover everyone, permanently, not to mention the multitude of other social and health benefits that it would bring to all of us.