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Fewer people neglecting health care over cost: CDC

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The rate of people who didn't get needed medical care as a result of its cost reached a 16-year-low in the three months that ended in March, as the Affordable Care Act continued to drive down the number of people without health insurance, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Tuesday.

The percentage of people who didn't get needed health care as a result of its cost fell to 4.4 percent. It was nearly 6 percent as of 2013 and has been on a steady downward curve since 2011, as the ACA's toolkit to expand health coverage has kicked in.

The CDC report also found that the rate of people without health insurance dropped below 10 percent in the first quarter, breaking a double-digit plateau that had persisted since the 1990s.

And in another marked decrease, the percentage of adults who said they were regular cigarette smokers hit a new low, at 15.2 percent, according to the CDC. That's down from 16.8 percent last year.

An attendee, right, fills out an health care application with a volunteer during the WeConnect Health Enrollment Information & Wellness Event in Oakland, California.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
An attendee, right, fills out an health care application with a volunteer during the WeConnect Health Enrollment Information & Wellness Event in Oakland, California.

The CDC report comes two months before open enrollment in Obamacare plans is scheduled to resume, and on the same day that Alaska is set to begin enrollment of newly eligible people in the Medicaid coverage program for the poor. Both events could end up driving the national uninsured rate down even further.

In the first three months of 2015, the CDC said, the rate of people without health insurance stood at 9.2 percent. That's down from 11.5 percent in the same period in 2014, and represents a 20 percent reduction in the uninsured rate over the past year.

In absolute numbers, 29 million people lacked health insurance in early 2015, compared with 36 million people in 2014. That number reached a high 48.6 million in 2010, the year the ACA was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The CDC, as with other studies, found that Hispanics by far continue to be the ethnic group with the highest rate of uninsured, even after Obamacare has been in effect for several years.

A total of 19.6 percent of Hispanics lacked health insurance in the first quarter of 2015, compared with 10.6 percent of blacks, and just 6.3 percent for whites.

Experts have blamed the higher uninsured rate among Hispanics on the bar to enrollment in Obamacare and Medicaid for undocumented residents, a concern by some documented Hispanics that enrollment will lead to exposure of undocumented relatives and a lack of familiarity with health insurance.

Bit there still has been a sharp decrease, of about 10 percentage points, in the uninsured rate among Hispanics since Obamacare became law.

The CDC's report is the latest survey that strongly suggests the ACA is behind a marked decrease in the uninsured rate in the U.S., as well as declines in the number of people who have difficulty accessing and paying for care.

Since it was signed into law, the ACA has mandated that adults under age 26 can be covered by their parents' health plans, and has provided billions of dollars in additional Medicaid funds to expand coverage to a bigger share of the poor.

So far, 30 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid eligibility to nearly all adults who earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $16,243 for an individual.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker's move to expand Medicaid in that state is being challenged in a lawsuit by the Alaska legislature, but a judge on Monday refused to issue a temporary restraining order barring enrollment starting Tuesday.

Medicaid expansion has been a major driver of coverage gains under the ACA, with at least 13 million extra people enrolling in that program since eligibility restrictions were loosened.

Government-run Obamacare marketplaces, such as the federal HealthCare.gov insurance exchange, as of this past spring had about 10.2 million paying customers in plans, according to officials.

Some of the newly enrolled in Medicaid and Obamacare plans had previous insurance coverage.