New York State’s uninsured rate hit an all-time low of 5.2 percent in 2019, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. New York has made continual coverage gains since 2010, when 11.9 percent of New Yorkers were uninsured. Approximately 68 percent of covered New Yorkers had private plans, while 40 percent had some type of public coverage.
New York had the 8th highest rate of insurance coverage in the United States (after Massachusetts, 3 percent; the District of Columbia, 3.5 percent; Rhode Island, 4.1 percent; Hawaii, 4.2 percent; Vermont, 4.5 percent; Minnesota, 4.9 percent; and Iowa, 5.0 percent). Twenty states experienced significant increases in their uninsured rates. For children, New York has the 5th best insurance coverage in the country with only 2.4 percent of people under 19 uninsured (after Massachusetts, 1.5 percent; Rhode Island, 1.9 percent; the District of Columbia, 2.0 percent; and Vermont, 2.1 percent).
Coverage changes between 2018 and 2019 were insignificant in most counties, but there were significant coverage gains in Erie, New York, Orange, Wayne, and Warren Counties (see table below). Only one county, Tompkins, experienced a significant increase in uninsured people (from 2.3 percent without insurance to 3.7 percent).
|County||Uninsured, 2018||Uninsured, 2019|
Queens County continues to have the highest rate of uninsured residents at 9.3 percent. It is followed by Cattaraugus County (8.3 percent), the Bronx (7.9 percent), St. Lawrence County (7 percent), and Kings County (6.3 percent).
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic means that 2020 may look very different. But New York’s leaders have taken many steps to protect New Yorkers from coverage losses, including extending open enrollment in the New York State of Health for the entire years and automatically renewing Medicaid, Essential Plan, and Child Health Plus for thousands of New Yorkers.
Everyone is experiencing enormous upheaval right now and many people are losing their jobs and with it their health insurance. Here’s a summary of actions New York State has taken to keep people covered during the pandemic.
- Medicaid discontinuances are halted. If you have Medicaid, you will not be disenrolled. If you get a discontinuance letter, contact your local district office or the NY State of Health – you will be reinstated. Thanks to the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, this is now also a federal policy – but New York did it first!
- Medicaid, Essential Plan, and Child Health Plus renewal dates are being pushed back by four moths. If you were supposed to renew in March, April, May, or June, you no longer have to do so.
- If you are uninsured, you have special permission to buy a plan through the New York State of Health (link) until April 15. A lot of people are experiencing job and income losses – you may be eligible for help that you weren’t previously eligible for. Ask for help figuring out what your options are – the New York State Navigator program is running full speed ahead! Your insurance will start on April 1.
- There is no cost-sharing (such as co-pays) for in-network telehealth services, whether related to COVID-19 or not (link). Insurers must cover telehealth services if those services would be covered during a physical interaction. This will help people stay at home and avoid unnecesary physical interactions.
- There is no cost-sharing for COVID-19 tests. If you cannot get a test in-network, insurers must cover the test out-of-network.
Things are moving quickly! As always, if you need help getting insurance or using your insurance, the Community Health Advocates program (link) is available.
Today marks ten years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Since then, the ACA has helped over 20 million Americans enroll in health insurance.
This year in New York, nearly five million people used the NY State of Health to enroll in health insurance. Before the ACA, there was no central location to shop for health insurance plans. Almost 800,000 people enrolled in the Essential Plan this year, which did not exist before the ACA. Over three million enrolled in Medicaid, which was expanded through the ACA. And around 273,000 people purchased Qualified Health Plans, 58 percent of whom received advance premium tax credits through the ACA. No one who enrolled in these health insurance plans had to answer questions about their previous health conditions – because under the ACA, anyone can buy insurance no matter what their pre-existing conditions are.
The ACA has also meant higher quality coverage. Under the current federal administration, some states have opted to loosen their health insurance standards. But in New York, paying a premium still means getting a plan that covers a comprehensive set of benefits including prescription drugs, maternity and newborn care, and preventive health screenings and visits. Insurers are no longer allowed to impose lifetime or annual coverage limits, a common pre-ACA practice that stopped coverage when people needed it most.
There’s a lot that could be improved upon in the ACA. For example, HCFANY supports higher income limits for premium subsidies and supplemental premium subsidies funded by the state. Deductibles are too high for many New Yorkers. Network standards are not high enough. But after ten years, evidence has poured in on the law’s benefits: the ACA has reduced racial health disparities (link), kept struggling community hospitals open (link), and made America healthier (link). We are so grateful to all the people who fought to make the ACA happen – and we’re dedicated to protecting and building off of what they won.
The New York State Department of Health has announced a special enrollment period in response to the spread of COVID-19. That means if you are uninsured, you have special permission to buy health insurance through the NY State of Health Marketplace (https://nystateofhealth.ny.gov/). This special enrollment period ends April 15 – so don’t wait!
What does this mean? Open enrollment periods exist to discourage people from waiting until they know they have big bills coming to buy insurance. If everyone did that, health insurance would quickly become unaffordable to almost everyone. During open enrollment, people have to decide – can I afford health insurance? And does it make sense to me to buy health insurance given my usual health expenses? Some people gamble that they won’t have any serious health problems during the year and chose not to enroll. But once open enrollment ends, those people cannot decide to buy insurance if say, they need an x-ray or were exposed to COVID-19 at work. There are always special enrollment periods for big life changes – for example, becoming pregnant or losing a job.
Open enrollment for 2020 ended on February 7 in New York. Two months later, during a public health emergency, there may be some uninsured people who feel differently about their decision. This announcement means you can turn back the clock and get insurance! Are you worried about costs? Navigators and other assistors are working throughout the emergency to help you! For enrollment questions, dial 1-888-614-5400 and choose option 1, and then 1 again.
Other things to remember:
- Any plan you enroll in through the State, including a private plan you buy through the NY State of Health, is required to cover COVID-19 testing without cost-sharing.
- You can enroll in Medicaid, the Essential Plan, or Child Health Plus at any time of the year based on your income. Enrollment uses the same NY State of Health application that you fill out to buy health insurance.
- If you have lost your job or experienced a decline in pay, talk to an assistor about it. You might be eligible for premium subsidies or programs that you weren’t eligible for during open enrollment.
This is a fluid and scary situation. Obtaining health insurance is one step New Yorkers can take to prepare for the next few weeks.