Politics & Government

Gallup Poll says state drop in uninsured is fourth best since federal health mandate began

A new Gallup healthcare poll ranks Washington fourth among states that reduced their uninsured rates as a result of the Affordable Care Act. The portion of the state’s population without health insurance has dropped from 16.8 percent to 10.7 percent since the introduction of the ACA, or Obamacare, the poll said.

Oregon and California also were in the top 10 for improvement despite the horrendous rollout of Oregon’s exchange, which is being scrapped for 2015.

States with the best improvement, according to Gallup, were Arkansas, Kentucky and Delaware. Arkansas nearly halved its uninsured rate, from 22.5 percent to 12.4 percent.

The poll figures for Washington are not quite as good as The Olympian and News Tribune reported in mid-July, when the Office of Insurance Commissioner estimated that uninsured rates had fallen below 9 percent.

“We’re looking at different data sources,’’ Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the insurance regulator, said Tuesday. The Gallup poll looked at what poll respondents said had changed for them since Jan. 1, while OIC’s figures were based on actual insurance data for the period since Oct. 1, when people previously eligible for Medicaid began signing up immediately.

Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement applauding the Gallup results nonetheless:

“Gallup has confirmed what we know from our experience here in Washington: Expanding coverage for working people in Washington by effectively implementing needed reforms makes a huge difference in getting people insured so they can get the health care they need,” said Inslee, who is a Democrat and longtime champion of the ACA.

“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we enrolled more than 600,000 people in health coverage through our exchange, the Washington Healthplanfinder. The result is a significant drop in our uninsurance rate, down to 10.7 percent from 16.8 percent before open enrollment. It’s the [fourth] biggest drop in the nation. We have a lot to be proud of, and will continue doing everything we can to make the ACA work for the people and businesses of Washington.”

OIC had estimated the share of Washingtonians going without health insurance had fallen by nearly 40 percent – dropping from about 970,000 of uninsured residents to about 600,000. The agency pegged the uninsured rate at 8.65 percent, down from its previous estimate of about 14 percent before the ACA.

Two factors are driving much of the change — enrollment in Medicaid, which is the federally and state-shared program that offers free coverage to the poor, and rising enrollments in the private market for individuals.

OIC has said the individual market has grown to more than 327,000, which is about 81,000 more insured people than were in the individual market on Oct. 1. That is the date that the Washington Health Benefit Exchange opened its portal for business for 2014 coverage.

Enrollment in the individual market included 156,155 people buying private insurance policies through the exchange and 171,286 who bought policies outside the exchange.

The online exchange portal at Wahealthplanfinder.org is also a new way for low-income families to sign up for Medicaid. And it appears from data released in mid-July by the state Health Care Authority that Medicaid was serving 345,766 people who became newly eligible under the Affordable Care Act. Beth Luce, spokeswoman for the HCA, had said that data through July 10 showed an additional 190,865 people were signed up for Medicaid who were already eligible under tighter standards in effect pre-ACA.

The Affordable Care Act raised income thresholds for eligibility, expanding coverage under the federal-state shared program to a broader swath of adults than ever.

Other Health Care Authority data shows total enrollment in all Medicaid programs is at about 1.6 million, up from 1.2 million last fall.

The state’s gains have come despite persistent payment and invoicing problems at the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which contends the problems are affecting just 4-5 percent of accounts.