State uninsured rate drops 25 percent

A study released by the University of Tennessee Monday found that Tennessee's uninsured population has decreased by 25 percent from last year, marking the lowest percentage of uninsured Tennesseans in a decade.

The report found that 7.2 percent of Tennessee's 6.5 million residents are uninsured. The state has also seen a 35 percent decrease in the number of uninsured children.

The uninsured rate was helped by the establishment of the health insurance marketplace through the Affordable Care Act, the report said. The national conversation around health reform encouraged many uninsured people to evaluate their eligibility for Medicaid or federal subsidies to obtain insurance through the marketplace. Last year, TennCare experienced the third-highest new enrollment in its 20-year history.

The study also found that 93 percent of TennCare recipients were satisfied with the program. That number stands in stark opposition to a stance held by three legal advocacy groups that sued the state in federal court this summer over the agency's alleged inefficiencies.

For uninsured Tennesseans, the report found that the reason residents fail to obtain insurance is still the same — cost and affordability.

"The major reason that people continue to report being uninsured is their perception that they cannot afford insurance," the study said. A significant change in this year's results was that 12 percent of respondents said they did not obtain insurance because they did not need it, which is more than double the percentage from 2013.

It is unclear what impact this study might have on the possibility of Medicaid expansion in the state. Tennessee has so far declined federal funding to expand coverage and the Republican-controlled legislature remains opposed. Gov. Bill Haslam has said he continues to work with the feds to develop a plan and some of the state's health system execs have put Tennessee in the "maybe" camp for expansion. But a declining uninsured rate sans expansion might give opponents a little more influence in arguing against the funding.

For the full report, click here.

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