More than 30 million Americans now have health insurance under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.1 These provisions include those that have allowed or encouraged people to enroll in coverage through expanded Medicaid eligibility, tax credits to help pay for premiums, state and federal outreach efforts, and consumer-friendly market regulations.2 A recent analysis found that the percentage of uninsured working-age adults dropped from 20 percent in 2010 to 12 percent in 2016.3
The law gives states flexibility in implementing provisions, including the choice of operating their own health insurance marketplace or leaving that task to the federal government. Moreover, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court gave states the option to decide whether or not to expand Medicaid eligibility to more lower-income adults. These choices, combined with each state’s unique demographics and history, have resulted in varying experiences among Americans. In this brief, we use data from the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey to examine differences in health insurance coverage, problems getting needed care because of costs, and medical bill and debt problems among 19-to-64-year-old adults in the nation’s four largest states: California, Florida, New York, and Texas.4
These states fall into two distinct categories. The first group, California and New York, both operate their own health insurance marketplaces and have expanded eligibility for Medicaid to adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level—$16,394 for an individual or $33,534 for a family of four. Florida and Texas, the second group, are using the federal marketplace to enroll residents in health plans and have declined to expand Medicaid eligibility (Exhibit 1).
The Affordable Care Act has significantly affected health insurance coverage and access among U.S. adults. But the decisions made by state leaders in implementing federal policy, along with other state laws, have ongoing implications for their residents. California and New York began seeing declines in their adult uninsured rate earlier than other states because of such choices. California expanded eligibility for Medicaid even before 2014 by creating the Low Income Health Program, which provided coverage to adults with incomes less than 200 percent of poverty.20 New York expanded Medicaid eligibility to parents with incomes up to 150 percent of poverty and childless adults up to 100 percent of poverty starting in 2000.21 In addition, both states opted to establish their own marketplaces and have conducted expansive outreach campaigns to increase awareness of coverage options. Alternatively, Florida and Texas—although they have experienced robust enrollment in private plans through the federal health insurance marketplace—have not expanded Medicaid eligibility and have made less progress covering uninsured residents.
However, the variation in insured rates is not entirely the result of states’ decision. The ACA does not provide access to any new coverage options for undocumented immigrants. They are ineligible for Medicaid coverage and cannot purchase private plans through the marketplace, subsidized or unsubsidized. This is likely a contributing factor in Texas’s higher uninsured rate.
While expanded coverage is the necessary first step to improving timely access to care and reducing medical financial burdens among U.S. families, the quality and comprehensiveness of coverage across all sources of insurance—marketplace plans, individual market plans, employer-provided coverage, and Medicaid—also has a significant impact.
The gains documented in this survey and many other private and federal analyses indicate that the Affordable Care Act has been successful in insuring millions of Americans and enabling them to get health care they may not have been able to afford previously. Further expanding coverage and improving affordability should remain a priority. Alternatively, repealing the law without a replacement that is at least equally effective will risk reversing the substantial gains the nation has made.