This story was updated at 10:10 am with additional quotes.
By Rose Hoban
Fewer people nationwide lacked health insurance in the opening months of this year, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Tuesday. And in North Carolina, the overall rate of uninsurance fell, according to another survey.
The National Health Interview Survey, conducted during the first three months of 2014, found that nationally the uninsured rate dropped from 14.4 percent in 2012 to 13.1 percent in 2013 for people of all ages. The study, performed every year by the U.S. Census Bureau, showed a steady decline in rates of uninsurance rates from a high of 15.5 percent in 2010.
Nationwide, 41 million people still lacked health insurance; more than 99 percent of those people were younger than 65 years old. Very few people over 65 are uninsured, as most of them have Medicare.
The survey found that for the first part of the year, the most pronounced drop in uninsured rates was among young adults aged 19 to 25. That number dropped from 26.5 percent in 2013 down to 20.9 percent in the beginning of 2014.
Since passing, the Affordable Care Act has allowed for young people to be retained on their parents’ insurance until age 26, and other surveys have found many families have taken advantage of this provision. Once people reach 27, however, the rate of people lacking insurance jumps back up.
“We know we had a few hundred thousand people get health insurance on the exchange,” said Dr. Adam Zolotor, interim president and CEO of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine. “We don’t know how many of them had health insurance through the private market the previous year, we know that some number of people did not.”
North Carolina statistics
A separate survey also released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau broke down rates of uninsurance by state. That survey found that in North Carolina, about 1.58 million people were uninsured in 2012. But by the time of the 2013 survey, that number had dropped to 1.509 million. That means that the rate of uninsured in North Carolina dropped from 16.5 percent in 2012 to 15.5 percent in 2013.
However, the census numbers do not include the early part of 2014, which was during the enrollment period for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, nor do those numbers break down ages of people who gained insurance during the enrollment period. But federal statistics show that at least 95,000 young adults under 26 in North Carolina gained insurance through a family member by the end of 2011.
“The problem with the Census data is that it has very little to do w anything substantive on rates under the Affordable Care Act,” Zolotor said. “it’s a small change and it’s a change that preceded implementation of the ACA; it’s probably more related to the economic recovery.”
Zolotor pointed out that in states which expanded Medicaid, the drop in uninsurance was about 3 percent, whereas in non-expansion states, it was a 1 percent, statistically insignificant decrease.
According to a spokesperson for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, 232,000 people in the state signed up for coverage on the health insurance exchange; 70 percent of those people had not been BCBSNC customers the prior year.
Over all, a total of 357,584 North Carolinians signed up for insurance through the health benefits website in early 2014.