New Census Data Show that Utah Lags in Health Insurance Coverage

Voices Utah Children LogoNew Census Bureau data show that since the Affordable Care Act was fully implemented in 2014, the number of uninsured nationwide has dropped from 14.5% in 2013 to 9.4% in 2015.

The uninsured rate in Utah has improved more modestly, dropping from 14.0% in 2013 to 10.5% in 2015. (Data reported in the American Community Survey.)

Before the ACA was implemented, Utah’s uninsured rate was similar to the nationwide rate. Utah fell behind in 2014, when states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA saw historic improvements in healthcare coverage rates. Utah lawmakers still haven’t accepted federal Medicaid expansion dollars under the ACA and Utah now has a higher uninsured rate than the nation as a whole.

“We are pleased that Utah’s health insurance coverage rates continue to improve,” said Jessie Mandle of Voices for Utah Children, pointing out that Utah lawmakers have taken some important steps to improve access, such as funding outreach for Medicaid and CHIP and eliminating barriers like the five-year wait for lawfully residing immigrant children. “However,” she added, “Utah needs to fully expand Medicaid to catch up with the rest of the nation.”

During the 2016 Legislative Session, the Utah Legislature partially expanded Medicaid to insure an estimated 10,000 additional people, rejecting a plan that would have offered coverage to 109,000 low-income Utahns.

“States that have adopted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion had lower uninsured rates in 2015 among non-elderly adults than other states,” reported Matt Broaddus and Edwin Park of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “The gap between the two groups of states grew from 4.3 percentage points to 6.3 percentage points between 2013 and 2014, as expansion states reduced their uninsured rate by twice as much as non-expansion states. That gap widened further in 2015 to 7.7 percentage points.”

Although Utah hasn’t accepted Medicaid expansion dollars, other provisions of the Affordable Care Act are helping to reduce the number of Utahns without health insurance, but not to the extent of states that fully expanded Medicaid. For example, some Utahns receive federal subsidies through the ACA to help them pay health insurance premiums. However, a family of four who makes less than $32,500/year is too poor to qualify. Medicaid expansion dollars are intended to help such low-income Utahns, but the Utah legislature must first accept the funds.