By Nick Albares

More Louisianans than ever before were covered by health insurance in 2015, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. Louisiana’s uninsured rate in 2015 was 11.9 percent, down from 14.8 percent in 2014, as state residents took advantage of coverage opportunities under the federal Affordable Care Act. The latest data do not reflect the recent expansion of Medicaid coverage to low-income adults, which took effect July 1 and has resulted in nearly 300,000 people gaining coverage.

Louisiana can expect even greater improvements in the uninsured rate when the 2016 data become available around this time next year.

Nationally, the uninsured rate dropped from 11.7 percent in 2014 to 9.4 percent in 2015 – a record low. The greatest coverage gains occurred in states that expanded their Medicaid programs, and the gap is growing between states that have embraced Medicaid expansion and those that have not. Next year, Louisiana will be included among the expansion states.

Thanks to Louisiana’s decision to expand Medicaid, more people will receive the care they need to go to work, take care of their kids, and be healthy, productive members of their community. Medicaid is a cornerstone of health care in this country for people who are struggling just to make ends meet, and since we expanded it to help more people, it’s stronger than ever in Louisiana.

The coverage gains for Louisiana reflected in this year’s Census data is mostly due to the new health insurance marketplace, which allows people to easily compare prices and benefits of health care plans. Many people who make too much to get care through Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance receive federal subsidies to help them pay their premiums and reduce their out-of-pocket health costs. And recent research shows that premiums in the marketplace are lower in states that have expanded Medicaid.

The task before policymakers is to make sure that those newly insured are able to access primary care, specialists, and emergency services so that increased access to insurance leads to healthier people and communities.

A few key points on national data released today

The U.S. Census Bureau also released national-level income and poverty data indicating that families across the country are finally starting to recover from the Great Recession (state by state data won’t be available until Thursday). Here are some highlights:

  • Overall median income rose 5.2 percent in 2015 from the year before – the highest one-year gain since 1967. But the gains were smaller in the South than elsewhere. Income in the South climbed 2.9 percent compared to 6.4 percent in Western states, 5.1 percent in the Midwest and 4.9 percent in the Northeast.
  • Real median income for African American families remains $19,000 less than the national median.
  • The national poverty rate dropped from 14.8 percent to 13.5 percent, tying the largest improvement since 1968.
  • As noted above, there were large gains in insurance coverage across the country with 4 million Americans gaining health coverage.