More low-income Americans lost their health insurance last year, but their situation is about to improve, according to a new survey of coverage from the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation focused on ways to improve access and quality in the health-care system.
The survey released on Tuesday found that families earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty limit—about $30,000 a year for a family of four—were least likely of all income categories to be insured.
Nearly 60 percent of adults in families with incomes below that level were uninsured for a time last year, and two out of five were uninsured for a year or more, according to the foundation’s 2011 Health Insurance Tracking Survey.
But when Medicaid eligibility expands in 2014, most Americans in that group will suddenly have access to insurance, the study noted. The 2010 health care reform law requires every state to provide Medicaid coverage to its population earning less than 133 percent of the poverty limit.
“The loss of jobs during the recession has impacted low- and moderate-income families, and it’s sort of accelerated this trend that we’ve seen over the past decade,” said Sara Collins, lead author of the report. Not only did about 9 million people lose health insurance when they lost jobs between 2008 and 2010, Collins said, but over the past decade lower-income workers have seen a reduction in benefits from their jobs.
The Commonwealth report says the expansion of Medicaid and other provisions of the health reform law will help connect low- and moderate-income Americans with a regular source of health care.
Adults with moderate household incomes—between 133 and 249 percent of the poverty level— also lacked health insurance coverage last year, the survey found: 36 percent of adults with family incomes at that level didn’t have health insurance in 2011.
Adults with higher incomes also experienced a drop in coverage, as 22 percent of adults with family incomes just below 400 percent of the poverty level went uninsured last year. For a family of four, living at 400 percent of the poverty level in 2011 meant living on an income of $89,400 per year.
Uninsured adults were more likely to use the emergency room for non-emergency reasons, such as filling a prescription, the survey found. They were also more likely to go to the emergency room during off-hours, in the evenings or on weekends.
The Commonwealth Fund Health Insurance Tracking Survey of U.S. Adults, 2011, was conducted online by Knowledge Networks between June 24 and July 5, 2011. A representative sample of 2,134 respondents, aged 19 to 64, completed the online survey. The margin of error was +/- 3 percentage points.