Another 212,000 New Jerseyans got health insurance between 2014 and 2015, so now more than nine in 10 residents have coverage, new data shows.
The latest American Community Survey numbers, released on Thursday, put the state's coverage rate at 91.3 percent, or close to 8.1 million people, in 2015. That's 2.7 percent more than a year earlier, when 89 percent had insurance. That addition to the insurance rolls was about the same number who gained health insurance during 2014, the first year in which the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, affected individuals.
"Unprecedented progress" is how Ray Castro, senior policy analyst with New Jersey Policy Perspective, a Trenton-based progressive think tank, termed the increase.
"The number of people with coverage increased in 2015 for two main reasons: New Jersey’s decision to expand Medicaid to reach the poorest residents who otherwise couldn’t afford health insurance, and the success of the health insurance marketplace in making insurance more affordable for low- and moderate-income New Jerseyans,". "This new report is particularly important because 2015 is the first year when the ACA was fully implemented, and the census data rivals all other studies in quality because of its large sample size."
The number of New Jerseyans lacking insurance dropped by nearly a third between 2011 and 2015, according to the data. Last year, about 770,000 people in the state did not have coverage. In 2011, 1.1 million lacked insurance. Nationally, 9.4 percent of people had no health coverage, compared with 8.7 percent of New Jerseyans.
"Since the Medicaid expansion started, about 480,000 additional New Jerseyans have enrolled, exceeding all projections," according to Castro. "New Jersey is also saving about a half billion dollars a year as a result of the Medicaid expansion because it was rewarded under the ACA for expanding eligibility in NJ FamilyCare and it has reduced the state’s charity payments to hospitals. New Jersey leads the nation for its savings from the Medicaid expansion."
Of those with insurance, about 78 percent had coverage through a private carrier, while about a third had public insurance like Medicare or Medicaid; some had both. Because public insurance is more accessible to the youngest and oldest citizens, they had the highest rates of coverage: 96 percent for those under 18 and nearly 99 percent of senior citizens.
Hunterdon County, the state's wealthiest county, had the greatest proportion of its population insured, nearly 98 percent.
Hudson County, which has the largest population of the foreign-born, had the lowest coverage rate, at 86 percent. But Hudson County saw the largest increase in people covered -- almost 76,000, or 15 percent.
The ranks of the uninsured dropped in every county, with Salem County seeing almost a 60 percent reduction. Union County had the smallest reduction in the uninsured, of 18 percent, but that represented nearly 16,000 people.
It's unclear whether the recent decisions by three insurance companies to leave the ACA marketplace, or continual increases in premiums, will stop or reverse the trend of increasing coverage. Castro said costs for ACA plans in New Jersey largely have been offset by subsidies, with 80 percent of those enrolling in the marketplace getting financial assistance.
"Prior to the marketplace, the number of New Jerseyans purchasing comprehensive insurance had been decreasing for nearly two decades, owing to the nation’s highest premium rates that made this coverage unaffordable for middle-class families," Castro wrote. "The ACA changed that."