Thanks to aggressive ACA enrollment efforts, King County cuts uninsured rate in half

We have more evidence for how much the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is helping King County residents and how Public Health’s enrollment outreach is paying off. The percentage of working-age adults without insurance has fallen by more than half, according to newly released data from the US Census Bureau (the gold standard for tracking how many people have insurance).

In King County, only 7.7% of adults age 18-64 lack health insurance. That’s the lowest level on record (going back nearly 30 years, and probably the lowest level ever).

By comparison, the rate was 16% as recently as 2013, before the launch of Open Enrollment in the Washington Health Benefit Exchange (Washington Healthplanfinder).

Uninsured rates in King County from 2008-2015
Uninsured rates in King County from 2008-2015

The uninsurance rates declined for all population groups. For example, for African-Americans, it’s fallen from 28% to 10%. And for children, the rate has fallen to a remarkably low 1.6%, also the lowest level ever recorded.

Outreach brings new options to people most in need

The decreases reflect more than 115,000 people who are newly insured in King County, through the state Exchange and the new expansion of Medicaid (Washington Apple Health) coverage. It also reflects young adults (age 19-25) who are able to remain on their parents’ insurance due to the ACA.

Public Health's enrollment team at Southcenter Mall
Public Health’s enrollment team at Southcenter Mall

“We’ve made helping people get enrolled in health insurance plans a high priority because it significantly improves the overall health outcomes in our region – particularly among people who have traditionally not had access to health care,” said Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County.

Our Access & Outreach team plays a pivotal role in that success. They not only enrolled thousands of people, but also convened and directed a much larger network of enrollment Navigators to make the online system accessible for residents. For example, they help people at libraries, food banks, hospitals and other public places.

Each year has called for new strategies to reach communities and individuals who have been difficult to enroll.  This past year, the team networked with taxi and Uber drivers, and even hosted “Health Care Happy Hour” events in order to reach the Latino community and the community of artists & performers

Benefits of insurance include better health, economic security

In addition, enrollment has been a top priority for other King County agencies, through Executive Dow Constantine’s request that they help the word about the newly available insurance options – which not only improve health, but also reduce inequities and strengthen people economically.

Having insurance makes a measurable difference. A recent study from researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found low-income adults who have health insurance are able to access preventive care and better manage their chronic diseases. Those with insurance used more preventive care, showed improved health care quality, used emergency department less, self-reported that their health improved.

How to sign up for affordable insurance

  • Residents can enroll at Washington Healthplanfinder from Nov. 1, 2016 through Jan. 31, 2017.
  • Choose from eight insurance carriers in King County, offering dozens of plans.
  • Get assistance across the county. Find a listing at Coverage is Here or call Public Health’s assistance hotline: 800-756-5437
  • Washington Apple Health – providing free insurance to those at the lowest range of the income spectrum – is open year-round for enrollment.

Public Health—Seattle & King County is a Lead Navigator Organization through Washington Healthplanfinder, the state’s health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.

King County in context:

  • Rate of uninsured for adults age 18-64 nationally is 13.1% and in Washington state is 9.4%, compared with King County at 7.7%
  • Rate of uninsured for people of all ages nationally is 9.4%, and in King County is 5.6%

Posted September 23, 2016

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I'm part of the communications team at Public Health - Seattle & King County and work closely with all of the programs in the Community Health Services Division.