By Andrew M. Seaman
(Reuters) - Americans are reporting improved health and better healthcare two years after health insurance became available under the Affordable Care Act, according to a new study published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study of more than 500,000 Americans found improvements in insurance coverage, access to primary care and prescription medicine, affordable healthcare and overall health since late 2013.
“Trends for these measures before the Affordable Care Act were significantly worsening for all outcomes,” said Dr. Benjamin Sommers, who led the research as an adviser at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The law created exchanges that sell subsidized health insurance to all individuals regardless of their health.
Based on the study results, approximately 15.8 million adults gained coverage under the law, better known as Obamacare, said Sommers, who is now at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
About 7 million adults obtained a personal physician, about 4.8 million more adults can afford medicine, about 11 million more adults say healthcare is affordable and about 6.8 million more people consider themselves in excellent or very good health, he said.
The study analyzed results from the 2012-2015 Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index, a daily national telephone survey, to determine trends before and after the government expanded insurance.
The researchers observed the largest improvements among racial and ethnic minorities.
In a second analysis of low-income adults, the researchers found that expanding Medicaid under the law is linked to drops in the number of uninsured adults, fewer people without doctors and fewer people reporting difficulty in getting medicine.
About 30 states have used federal funds offered under the law to expand Medicaid coverage to individuals with incomes of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
The researchers cautioned it was not clear the law directly improved health and healthcare access. A stronger economy, falling unemployment and other factors may have played a role.
“This is very consistent with what health policy experts predicted,” said Dr. John Rowe, a health policy professor at the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York.
“If you give people insurance, they use it,” said Rowe, who was not involved with the new study. “And people who get more care do better than people who don’t.”
He said the remaining question is how the U.S. healthcare system will accommodate the increasing number of Americans with insurance, especially in light of a prediction that there will be a shortage of primary care doctors in the coming decade.
The JAMA study can be found at: bit.ly/1D6VCG9.
Reporting by Andrew M. Seaman in New York; Editing by Caroline Humer and Jeffrey Benkoe