ACS Data Shows Country Heading in Right Direction but has Long Way to Go in Bringing Down Uninsured Rate

By Tara Mancini

Today’s release of the 2011 estimates of the American Community Survey (ACS) continues the good news on coverage announced in last week’s Current Population Survey (CPS).  The national uninsured rate saw a significant decline from 15.5% to 15.1%, with children and young adults likely accounting for much of that decrease (sadly, poverty rose slightly).

The percent of children under age 18 who are insured increased almost 150,000 to 92.5%.  Young adults aged 19-25 experienced a 3.6 percentage point gain in their insured rate from 2009 – 2011. The gains in coverage for these groups underscore how the ACA is already working to achieve its goal of increasing coverage and the promise it holds for insuring those who may not be eligible for affordable coverage until 2014.

Surely, the high level data is welcome news, but the disparities among the uninsured of all ages reveal that there is more work to be done. At 29.8%, the uninsured rate of Latinos is almost twice as high as the national average and close to three times that of Whites. Among income groups, those below 138% FPL have the highest uninsured rate at 27.2%.

State level data also show great variation from the national average. Nevada remains the state with the highest percent (16.2 %) of uninsured children and Texas has the highest percent (23.0 %) of all uninsured.  Massachusetts continues to boast the lowest number of uninsured, both overall (4.3 %), and among children (1.7 %). You can read more about states’ uninsured rates in this Kaiser Health News story.

Overall, while today brings us promising figures, we still have more to strive for. As my colleague Joan Alker noted last week, those aged 65 years or older have the lowest uninsured rates, just 1.0% by ACS estimates. We should be viewing the success in covering them as a benchmark for what we can (and should) do for kids and other adults.

Be on the lookout for our more comprehensive analysis of the ACS health insurance data to be released in October.

Editor’s Note – Because of the large sample size of the ACS, it provides the most reliable state estimates on health insurance of the national surveys. You will likely notice that the ACS health insurance estimates differ from those of the CPS, which were released last Wednesday. It is important to remember that these surveys ask different questions about health insurance and have different reference periods for the questions asked. You can brush-up on the differences between the two surveys with this quick Census comparison chart