Without ACA protections, more than half of non-elderly Americans could face discrimination in health care
Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law, millions of Americans no longer face coverage denials, higher costs, or coverage carve outs because of their medical histories. A new analysis from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a first look at what happened to uninsured rates for Americans with pre-existing health conditions when the ACA’s major insurance market reforms took effect in 2014. It finds that, between 2010 and 2014, the share of Americans with pre-existing conditions who went without health insurance all year fell by 22 percent, meaning 3.6 million fewer people with pre-existing conditions went uninsured.
While data for individuals with pre-existing conditions are available only through 2014, the uninsured rate for all Americans has fallen by an additional 22 percent through mid-2016, and Americans with pre-existing conditions have likely seen similar additional gains.
“Today, thanks to Affordable Care Act protections, the uninsured rate is at its lowest level in history and millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions like asthma or cancer no longer have to worry about being denied coverage because of their medical history,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “This is clear and measurable progress, and we shouldn’t turn the clock back to a time when people were denied coverage.”
The new analysis estimates that 51 percent of non-elderly Americans, or 133 million people, have a pre-existing health condition under the definition insurers used for underwriting purposes before the ACA. Among the most common pre-existing conditions are: high blood pressure (46 million people); behavioral health disorders (45 million people); asthma or chronic lung disease (34 million people); heart conditions or heart disease (16 million people); diabetes (13 million people); and cancer (11 million people). Because the likelihood of having a pre-existing condition increases with age, the ACA’s protections are especially important to middle-aged and older Americans. Up to 84 percent of Americans between age 55 and 64, and up to 75 percent of Americans between age 45 and 54 have a pre-existing condition that could have been the basis for insurer discrimination prior to 2014.
Today’s analysis confirms that the ACA’s insurance market reforms are having a major impact on coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions. After passage of the Affordable Care Act, uninsured rates declined by almost 20 percent or more among non-elderly Americans with high blood pressure, behavioral health disorders, asthma or chronic lung disease, and osteoarthritis.
The analysis also sheds light on proposals that would restrict pre-existing condition protections to people who meet standards for continuous coverage, rather than protecting anyone who signs up during an annual open enrollment period. The analysis finds that tens of millions of people with pre-existing conditions go uninsured for at least short spells due to job changes, other life transitions, or periods of financial difficulty. In the two-year period beginning in 2013, almost one third of people (44 million) with pre-existing conditions went uninsured for at least one month.
The Affordable Care Act achieved dramatic improvements in coverage for people with pre-existing conditions through three fundamental reforms: first, requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions; second, providing financial assistance linked to premiums and income to help make coverage more affordable; and third, by requiring all Americans to get coverage if they can afford it. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, states that tried to protect people with pre-existing conditions without other measures such as financial assistance and an individual responsibility requirement saw premiums skyrocket as not enough healthy people entered the risk pool. Under the Affordable Care Act, the number of people in the individual market has grown, and most HealthCare.gov enrollees can select a plan for less than $75 per month in premiums.
A PDF of the entire report is posted at https://aspe.hhs.gov/pdf-report/health-insurance-coverage-americans-pre-existing-conditions-impact-affordable-care-act