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Percentage Of Uninsured Adults Drops In N.J.

The Record (NorthJersey.com) — Thursday, November 5, 2015

By LINDY WASHBURN
STAFF WRITER |
The Record

In the first look at the change in the uninsured population during 2015, a government survey has found ongoing, steady gains in the number of people with private and public health coverage. New Jersey matched that trend, with the percentage of uninsured adults, ages 18 to 64, dropping to 11.6 percent in the first half of this year, from 12.9 percent in 2014.

Nationwide, 7.5 million fewer people lacked insurance in the first six months of this year, compared with last year. Since 2013, when new insurance options under the Affordable Care Act became available, the number of uninsured has dropped by 16.3 million, according to the report.

The survey released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides evidence that the law is achieving at least one of its goals by reducing the number of people without insurance. Other federal reports have said that 17.6 million people obtained insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but not all of those enrollees were uninsured prior to signing up.

Critics point out, though, that coverage through the plans sold on healthcare.gov can come with high out-of-pocket costs that may deter consumers from seeking health care. And the law's requirement that plans be standardized to include 10 "essential benefits" forced about 100,000 people in New Jersey to switch plans in 2014, often at a higher cost, when their less comprehensive coverage was no longer offered.

The continued decline in the number of uninsured comes as advocates have embarked on the third — and what they say is the toughest — open enrollment period since the new health plans rolled out in late 2013.

"We know a lot more than when we started two years ago," said Maura Collinsgru, program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, which organized a coalition of more than 60 community groups to promote enrollment. "We know so much more about how to reach people, and where they are located."

At a walk-in enrollment center operated by Citizen Action in downtown Newark on Thursday, representatives of the various groups showed off new Webbased tools — found at CoverNJ.org — intended to help the uninsured find coverage. Information about where to find enrollment counselors and a calendar of enrollment events, along with a calculator that shows the options available and estimates the cost of coverage, is provided.

$695 penalties

In North Jersey, more than 100,000 uninsured residents are estimated to be eligible for tax credits to buy coverage through the federal marketplace for New Jersey at healthcare.gov, Collinsgru said. Statewide, some 400,000 to 500,000 people remain without insurance.

"It doesn't hurt to look," Collinsgru said. "There's no cost to sit down with an assister or take a walk through the web site."

Volunteer efforts organized by Be Jersey Strong, a student-led movement; Faith in New Jersey, a non-profit that works with church and religious congregations; and Wind in the Spirit, an immigrant resource center, are targeting the young and Hispanics, among others, because they represent a disproportionate share of the uninsured.

The national survey released Thursday found that the percentage of 19- to 25-year-olds who are without insurance has been cut in half since 2010, in part due to a provision of the health care law that allows children up to age 26 to remain on their parents' insurance plans. And it found that among Hispanic adults, the uninsured rate fell to 27 percent in the first half of 2015, from 41 percent in 2013.

"The stakes are high this year for those who remain uninsured," Collinsgru said. With penalties of $695 for an adult or 2.5 percent of income, paying for coverage is a far better investment than paying a fine, she said.

Copyright 2015 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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