North Carolina’s uninsured rate, long one of the highest in the nation, dropped to 15.6 percent in 2015 from 17.3 percent the previous year.
That new data was issued Tuesday by the National Center for Health Statistics and is the first official government estimate of the effect of the Affordable Care Act on the ranks of the nation’s uninsured in 2015. The national average for the uninsured in 2015 was 10.5 percent.
The ACA was enacted in 2010 and required most Americans to obtain health insurance in 2014. That year, about 357,000 people in North Carolina signed up for individual health insurance through the ACA’s insurance marketplace. More than 613,000 in the state are now enrolled through the ACA.
Because government statistics lag by more than a year, uninsured rates for 2016 won’t be out until mid-2017.
According to the NCHS, North Carolina’s uninsured rate was dropping before the ACA’s individual mandate went into effect in 2014. For example, the rate dropped from 21.5 percent in 2012 to 19.9 percent in 2013. Then it dropped to 17.3 percent in 2014, the first year that people were required to buy health insurance.
One reason the rate has been dropping is because more people are getting jobs – and employer-sponsored health coverage with those jobs – as the nation’s economy improves, said Rachel Garfield, a senior researcher with the independent Kaiser Family Foundation.
North Carolina’s uninsured rate remains among the highest in the nation. Only four states had higher rates last year: Alaska (17.1. percent), Oklahoma (17.4 percent), South Carolina (16 percent) and Texas (18.8 percent).
The states with the lowest uninsured rates in the country had their own healthcare reform initiatives in place before the ACA required people to buy insurance in 2014. For example, in 2015, the uninsured rate in Massachusetts was 2.9 percent, in the District of Columbia it was 4 percent, in Wisconsin it was 4.4 percent and in Hawaii it was 4.7 percent.
Massachusetts had implemented a health insurance program under then-Gov. Mitt Romney, while the others had generous Medicaid programs with high enrollments that brought down uninsured rates.
Under the ACA, North Carolina is among the states that has not expanded its Medicaid program.