New study shows Obamacare is succeeding at one of its most fundamental goals

It’s now been nearly two years since the Affordable Care Act was fully implemented. And a new study suggests it’s succeeding at one of its basic goals: Improving access to care.

Through the first two open-enrollment periods, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that as of March 2015, 11.7 million people signed up for private insurance through federal and state marketplaces. And an additional 12.2 million have been enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program since September 2013.

Previous studies have documented the sharp decline in the uninsured rate.

And a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the implementation of the law colloquially known as Obamacare has led to improved national trends in coverage and access. Fewer Americans are uninsured, the study showed. Fewer Americans are having trouble getting the medicines they need. And there was a significant plunge among people who reported an inability to afford needed care.

The study also found that the largest improvements in coverage and access occurred among racial and ethnic minorities, which could lead the law to reducing long-standing racial and ethnic disparities in access to care.

Here’s a look at key trends from the study, which measures the law’s first two open-enrollment periods:

  • The number of people insured increased, compared to pre-ACA trends, by 7.9 percentage points.
  • The number of people who did not have a personal physician dropped by 3.5 percentage points.
  • The number of people who had difficulties getting medications dropped by 2.4 percentage points.
  • The number of people who who were unable to afford care dropped by 5.5 percentage points.
  • The number of people who reported fair/poor health, dropped by 3.4 percentage points.
  • The number of days with activities limited by health decreased by 1.7 percentage points.

The biggest decrease in the rate of uninsured people was among Latino adults. The uninsured rate in that demographic dropped by 11.9 percentage points, compared to about 6.1% among white adults.

Low-income adults in states where Medicaid was expanded also reported more coverage — with a 5.2% point drop in the uninsured rate. They also reported better access, with a 2.2% bigger drop than states where the program was not expanded.

Coupled with other recent reports corroborating those findings, the study’s authors said it shows that expansion of Medicaid to even more states would result in benefits for low-income populations. Twenty states have declined to expand the federal Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. The study, however, did not find statistically significant changes in self-reported health for Medicaid patients, which other studies had previously displayed.

The study looked at six different measures to identify how the ACA and Medicaid had influenced people’s health in the last two years: Being uninsured, not having a personal physician, difficulties in getting medications, difficulties affording medical care for someone in the past year, overall health status, and the percentage of days over the past month in which poor health limited activities.

Data from more half a million adults was used in the study. Researchers analysed data from the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index (WBI), which is based on a cell phone and landline telephone survey from US adults all over the country.

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