Will we ever really know how many people gained insurance because of the Affordable Care Act?

A NEJM study published this week reveals that 10.3 million Americans are newly insured because of the Affordable Care Act. The report made a splash across in the news. (See Politico, Modern Healthcare, Boston Business Journal to get an idea.)

According to the study:

  • 10.3 million previously uninsured adults gained coverage during the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period
  • The uninsured rate for working-age adults fell from 21 percent in September 2013 to 16.3 percent in April 2014
  • The biggest gains in coverage were for Latinos, blacks and adults ages 18-34

But how accurate are these numbers?

Other organizations have crunched the numbers and come to different conclusions. A Commonwealth Fund survey, for example, found that 9.5 million more adults have insurance now than at the beginning of open enrollment, while the Urban Institute found 8 million more became insured.

The NEJM study does say (and Politico points out) that depending on the analysis used, the number of newly insured could range from 7.3 to 17.2 million adults.

There are so many variables at play here. For example, this NEJM study doesn’t take into account young adults who are now able to stay on their parents' insurance plans until they’re 26 years, nor does it include gains from early Medicaid expansions that began in 2010 and 2011.

With so many different statistics floating around and so many different analyses, it’s tough to really get a sense of how the Affordable Care Act has fared.

Expect to see people spinning these statistics whichever way best suits their goals. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of politicians doing just that this election season.