A new government report released Tuesday finds 17.6 million Americans have gained health insurance coverage since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010.
The coverage expansion has sliced the nation's uninsured rate by 38 percent to 12.6 percent, the lowest level ever, said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell during a speech at the Howard University School of Medicine.
That's down from a national uninsured rate of 20.3 percent when the health insurance marketplaces first opened in October 2013.
About 15.3 million gained insurance either through marketplace coverage, non-marketplace individual coverage or through Medicaid, the state/federal health plan for low-income Americans. The remaining 2.3 million young adults ages 19-25 secured coverage under a health law provision that lets them remain on a parent's plan until age 26.
The dramatic declines were most pronounced among Hispanics, whose uninsured rate fell from nearly 42 percent in March 2014 to just over 30 percent in September 2015 as roughly 4 million Latinos gained coverage.
The uninsured rate for African Americans fell from 22.4 percent in March 2014 to 12.1 percent today, as 2.6 million blacks gained coverage. About 8.3 million whites gained coverage, dropping their uninsured rate from 14.3 percent to 8.3 percent over the same period.
The continued success of the health law in expanding coverage has defied predictions by Republicans that the law would fail.
"The disasters that some predicted have not happened," Burwell declared. "Instead, we're seeing the law doing what it was meant to do: deliver access, affordability and quality. It's helping millions find affordable insurance and ensuring that - no matter where we buy it - we can all rely on quality coverage when we need it most."
On a related note, new survey data shows that single and family premiums for job-based health insurance rose an average of 4 percent this year.
The average annual cost of single coverage is $6,251, of which workers pay about $1,071, according to the 2015 Employer Health Benefits Survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.
Job-based family coverage in 2015 averaged $17,545 a year, with workers paying about $4,955 on average. Employers pay the remaining amount.
As HHS and the states prepare for the third marketplace open enrollment season beginning November 1, Burwell warned that it will be difficult to sign up the remaining 10.5 million uninsured people who are eligible for marketplace coverage.
Nearly half of them are young adults between ages 18 and 34 "which means they might not think they need insurance," Burwell said.
About 40 percent of the remaining uninsured who qualify for marketplace plans are low- to moderate-income workers, earning about $30,000 to $60,000 for a family of four. About half have less than $100 in savings, which means they may have difficulty paying for coverage.
And nearly 60 percent don't know about or how to access the tax credits that can help them pay for marketplace insurance.
"So we're focused on educating them about financial assistance that can help make plans more affordable,” Burwell said.
Enrollment efforts will target these remaining uninsured people in the Dallas, Houston, Northern New Jersey, Chicago and Miami areas, which have the highest rates of uninsured people who are eligible for marketplace coverage.
"This open enrollment is going to be tougher than last year. But while our goals may be harder to reach, we're working smarter to reach them," Burwell said.