on May 23, 2014 at 6:00 AM, updated May 23, 2014 at 12:04 PM
TRENTON — The first look at the Affordable Care Act’s impact on New Jersey reveals the percentage of uninsured people is on track to reach its lowest level in nearly a quarter of a century, according to a new report released Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The proportion of uninsured adults decreased 38 percent from September to early March, according to the foundation. That decline is likely to accelerate, knowing that many people waited until the last minute to beat the March 30 enrollment deadline.
"These findings suggest that uninsurance in New Jersey is at its lowest level since 1990," according to the report produced by the foundation and the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy.
The survey results suggest that many concerns about the law — from Gov. Chris Christie hand-off approach to its implementation, to the Obama administration’s troubled launch of the HealthCare.Gov website — did not create insurmountable roadblocks.
The foundation report said that in September, about 21 percent of New Jerseyans age 18-64 were uninsured. It was down to about 13 percent in early March.
"What this tells us is mandates work," said Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers center, which collaborated with the foundation to analyze survey results from about 450 New Jerseyans. "What we are seeing here that the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion really did crack the affordability barrier for people."
About 162,000 New Jerseyans signed up for private insurance using the federally run health exchange, and 140,000 for Medicaid, according to federal officials.
About 26 percent of eligible New Jerseyans signed up for health coverage through the marketplace, compared to the 28 percent of eligible people who signed up in New York, according to the Urban Institute, the public policy research center whose analysis of national enrollment data formed the basis of the New Jersey survey.
"Despite the fact that New Jersey did not build its own exchange and did relatively little at the state level to promote the Affordable Care Act, New Jersey’s enrollment performance was not significantly different than that of New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut, three states that are considered to have built successful state marketplaces," according to the report.
The New Jersey analysis also found:
• 85 percent of enrollees qualified for a tax break;
• 25 percent enrollees were 18 to 34 years old;
• 63 percent of enrollees are white; about 16 percent are Asian; about 13 percent are black and just under 7 percent are Latino.
Over time, Cantor predicts uninsured people who have relied on charity care and emergency rooms for their medical needs will form relationships with doctors and other medical providers.
"It is hard to say when charity care would decline. You won’t see reduction in demand for ER services right away if that is where you are going for your care. It will take more than an insurance card to get people out of ER," Cantor said.
For its inaugural year, the law succeeded in reaching low-income uninsured, said Stephen Zuckerman, a health economist at the Urban Institute. About half of those who enrolled qualified for Medicaid, and 40 percent qualified for subsidies.
"The people who are gaining coverage are the ones who needed it," Zuckerman said.
Alescia Marie Teel, spokeswoman for Enroll America, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization of staff and volunteers that held 1,500 events to promote the law, said the decline in the rate of this who don’t hve insurance os gratifying.
"We are thrilled that so many uninsured New Jersey residents now have access to affordable health coverage — many for the first time," Teel said. "We look forward to continuing to deliver information to residents where they are and connecting them to in-person enrollment assistance to ensure that they have every opportunity to access affordable, quality health insurance."