Uninsured Rate Declines Sharply
But there are still 323,000 uninsured Wisconsinites.
New data released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that the federal health care reform law has been extremely effective in reducing the number of people who are uninsured, both nationally and here in Wisconsin. The new figures also bring very good news on national improvements relating to income and poverty.
The number of Wisconsinites who do not have health insurance fell sharply during the first two years of implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to the new data from the American Community Survey (ACS), 195,000 fewer Wisconsin residents were uninsured last year than in 2013, a decline of 37.6%.
The national ACS data show that the number of Americans without health insurance fell by more than a third from 2013 to 2015, and the percentage who are uninsured is now at an all-time low. That reflects a drop in the uninsured population of almost 7 million last year, on top of an improvement of about 8.5 million in 2014, when key parts of the health care reform law took effect.
Although the substantial improvement in insurance coverage is very good news for Wisconsin, it’s not a reason to be complacent. There are still about 323,000 Wisconsinites who are uninsured, which is far too many. We need to make additional policy changes to reach the Governor’s goal of cutting in half Wisconsin’s uninsured rate.
The graph compares Wisconsin’s drop in the percentage of people who are uninsured with the changes nationally and in the states on our borders. Although our state still has one of lowest uninsured rates – tied with Rhode Island for the sixth lowest – we trail Iowa and Minnesota. In addition, states like Michigan and Illinois that expanded Medicaid have seen larger improvements in insurance coverage than Wisconsin.
To reach Governor Walker’s goal of cutting in half the uninsured rate in Wisconsin we need to reach the 4.5% uninsured rate in Minnesota, which would translate into about 70,000 fewer uninsured Wisconsinites.
State policymakers could achieve that goal by removing administrative barriers to participation in BadgerCare and by taking advantage of the federal funding that would pay the full cost of expanding BadgerCare eligibility of adults to 138% of the federal poverty level.
Our analysis of the new data found that the states that expanded Medicaid by 2015 reduced the number of uninsured by 42 percent during the first two years of the major health care reform changes, compared to just 25 percent in the non-expansion states. Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan, which are expansion states, have all achieved 44% reductions over the last two years, compared to the 38% reduction in Wisconsin, which partially expanded eligibility for childless adults.
The new data on health insurance coverage was not the only good new released by the Census Bureau. Other very positive findings in the national data include the following:
- The typical household’s income rose by 5.2%, or $2,798, last year. That is the largest increase in median income in both percentage and dollar terms ever recorded by the Census Bureau, with data going back to 1967.
- The national poverty rate fell to 13.5% last year, from 14.8% in 2014, which ties the record for the largest improvement since 1968.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) attributes the progress relating to income and poverty to tighter labor markets and state and local minimum wage increases. (Read more here.)