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The rate of uninsured Utahns dropped to 10.5 percent in 2015, but estimates show that number would be even lower if the state expanded Medicaid.
New U.S. Census Bureau data shows that Utah's uninsured rate, down from 15.3 percent in 2010, resulted in an additional 143,000 residents having health insurance.
Jason Stevenson, Utah Health Policy Project's education and communications director, was "surprised" by the 2015 numbers. "I thought it was going to be higher," he said. "It's good news even though we're still not doing as well as the national average."
Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday that every state has seen a reduction in the number of uninsured individuals since 2010. The national uninsured rate dropped to 8.6 percent, a record low, in the first quarter of 2016.
Federal health officials attribute this drop to changes made by the Affordable Care Act, which created online insurance marketplaces that allow consumers to compare plan prices and networks. They also can qualify for federal tax credits that reduce the overall cost of coverage.
Estimates from the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, shows that Medicaid expansion in Utah would result in an additional 83,000 residents getting coverage. In 2015, that would have resulted in an uninsured rate of 7.7 percent .
In the 31 states that expanded Medicaid, "the uninsured rate dropped far more," said Aviva Aron-Dine, the department's senior counselor to the secretary. "This is no surprise, but the differences are dramatic."
Utah lawmakers passed this year a small-scale Medicaid expansion plan, projected to cover 9,000 to 11,000 people, after years of debate and protests over the topic.
The plan, which is undergoing public comment at the federal level, targets childless adults who are chronically homeless, involved in the justice system or in need of mental health or substance abuse treatment. It also expands coverage for low-income parents with dependent children previously not covered by Medicaid.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services still must approve the plan, but state health officials have said they hope to begin enrolling individuals Jan. 1. They previously admitted, however, that timeline is optimistic.
Though Utah did not fully expand Medicaid, new data shows that insurance has become more affordable for some.
Utah families with employer-sponsored health plans saved $1,900 in 2015 from slower premium growth since 2010, according to a department news release. Across the country, individuals with these types of plans saw a 3.4 percent increase in 2016.
"This report is good news in and of itself for the roughly 150 million Americans with employer coverage, but even more important looked at in context," Aron-Dine said.
Between 2000 and 2010, these plans increased an average of 7.9 percent each year.
Also under the act, Utahns have experienced improved health care quality, health officials say.
Between 2010 to 2015, federal data shows that hospital readmissions for Medicare beneficiaries in the state dropped 5.7 percent. That means that in 2015, Medicaid beneficiaries avoided additional, unnecessary visits to the hospital 261 times.
"Affordability, access, and quality are how we measure success in the health care system," said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, department secretary. "This week's data show Utah is making progress on all three under the Affordable Care Act."