The various parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that extended new avenues for health coverage to many economically disadvantaged Americans was controversial, but as far as actually getting the previously uninsured enrolled in plans, it seems to have done its job quite well. In fact, the latest data suggests that the law led to the number of newly insured consumers to climb into the eight-figure range.
In all, about 10.3 million Americans have likely been able to find health insurance coverage of some kind in the last year, according to a new study from the New England Journal of Medicine. That number is based on the national uninsurance rate slipping 5.2 percentage points through the end of the second quarter. However, it's important to note that this number might not be totally accurate because the data can be viewed in a lot of ways; depending on how it's interpreted, the actual number of newly insured Americans could be as little as 7.3 million or as high as 17.2 million.
Interestingly, it seems that the people who were mainly targeted by the law itself were indeed the ones who saw the most significant gains in coverage, the report said. Those who saw the largest drops in uninsurance rates were Latinos, African Americans, and millennials.
Medicaid has a major impact
As one might expect, the ability of many states across the country to expand their Medicaid programs under the new law also had big drops in their uninsured numbers, the report said. In states that actually accepted the federal government's terms and made the programs available to more residents saw uninsurance rates dip 5.1 percent or so. Meanwhile, in the many states where no such changes were made, there was no change at all in terms of Medicaid enrollment.
Further, the data shows that within six months of receiving their new coverage, consumers generally increased their doctor visits and felt they didn't have nearly as much difficulties in paying for their treatment overall, the report said. Other studies have indicated a similarly increased willingness or ability to seek and pay for care as a consequence of improved coverage.
Health insurers may be able to see this as being good for business overall, not only because more people are signing up for coverage, but also because Americans seem to be getting more routine care. That, in turn, could lead to fewer catastrophic illnesses in the future, which may cut costs.