Survey finds 5.4 million Americans gained insurance under new health law

BY Jason Kane  April 3, 2014 at 3:13 PM EDT
Enrollment Specialist Horacio Castaneda, left, helps Rosa Ayala Cruz, right, apply for health benefits at the Denver Health Westside Family Health Center on Oct. 1, 2013 in Denver. Photo by Chris Schneider/Getty Images

Enrollment Specialist Horacio Castaneda, left, helps Rosa Ayala Cruz, right, apply for health benefits at the Denver Health Westside Family Health Center on Oct. 1, 2013 in Denver. Photo by Chris Schneider/Getty Images

More than 5.4 million Americans gained health insurance since September, according to a survey released Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The results are the first indicator of how many uninsured Americans may have benefited from the Affordable Care Act since the insurance marketplaces opened last October. Supporters of the law say it’s another reason to be optimistic.

The percentage of uninsured Americans dropped from 17.9 percent in September to 15.2 percent in March, the survey shows. And because 17.5 percent were still uninsured in December, the data suggests that most of that drop occurred in 2014 as Americans rushed to sign up before the March 31 deadline for open enrollment.

Most of the survey was completed by March 6 – before the final open enrollment surge took place – meaning the final insurance tally could be even higher.

The nationally representative survey of approximately 7,500 adults was conducted by researchers at the Urban Institute and funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is also an underwriter of the NewsHour health unit.

Since President Obama announced on Tuesday that 7.1 million Americans had enrolled in coverage through the insurance marketplaces, many have wondered how many actually gained new coverage under the law. A percentage of the 7.1 figure are likely those who were forced to re-enroll in coverage after being forced from their previous plans by the law.

Some, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, say the Obama administration’s figures may be inflated because it’s still unknown how many of the “newly insured” have taken the crucial step of paying their first month’s premium. The distinction: Those who have enrolled through the marketplace but fail to make that payment will remain uninsured.

While those behind the survey admit that much is still unknown, they say it’s a good indicator that the law is working as intended.

“The 15 percent drop in uninsurance among adults since September reveals a very promising start for the ACA’s key coverage expansion provisions,” said Sharon Long, an Urban Institute health economist and the coordinator of the survey. “One can expect even more significant changes as the end-of-March surge in enrollments is accounted for.”