Obamacare Cuts Uninsured Rate Again
Policy + Politics

Obamacare Cuts Uninsured Rate Again

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Good news for the White House—the uninsured rate dipped to its lowest level in recent history and Obamacare is likely behind the decline.

Gallup’s latest Health and Well-Being Index shows the percentage of uninsured Americans dipped down to 14.7 percent in mid-March just ahead of the end of the first open enrollment period under the president’s health care law. The survey interviewed more than 43,500 adults from Jan. 2 to March 31, 2014.

The uninsured rate, which stood at 16 percent in January and a high of 18 percent in the third quarter of 2013, continues to decline as more people gain coverage under the new health care law.

Related: Employment, Obamacare Lower Uninsured Rate

“Obamacare appears to be accomplishing its goal of increasing the percentage of Americans with health insurance,” Gallup’s Jenna Levy writes in an analysis of the survey’s findings.

This is the first time in the last six years that the uninsured rate has reached the 14 percent range since 2008 when it dropped to a low of 14.4 percent. The insured rate is closely tied with the unemployment rate—so when unemployment peaked at 10 percent in the wake of the financial crisis in 2010, the uninsured rate also climbed.

One of the reasons for the rate dip is the increase in Medicaid coverage. Over 3 million previously uninsured people have enrolled in Medicaid to a total of 35 million as a result of Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid program. Additionally, an anticipated increase of about 2 million people have been added to Medicare in 2013, for an estimated total of 51,500,000.

As the economy slowly began recovering, the uninsured rate held steady, but shot up to its highest point in the third quarter of 2013, just as the health exchanges were about to launch. At the time, Gallup predicted that the rate of uninsured people would fall in 2014 as more Americans became aware of the requirement to have insurance. 

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In Gallup’s latest analysis, Levy writes that she expects the rate to continue falling as more people signed up for insurance before open enrollment closed at the end of the month. Even more continue to gain coverage through enrollment extensions granted by the administration and insurers as well as through Medicaid, which does not have an enrollment deadline.

The administration said some 7.1 million Americans had signed up for coverage through the exchanges by midnight on March 31—though it is not clear how many of those people were previously uninsured, nor is it clear how many have actually paid for their policies.

A private survey by the RAND corporation estimates that about one third were previously uninsured, suggesting that the majority of enrollees switched plans.

The survey found that the biggest gains in health coverage were among low-income people. Among those with annual incomes of less than $36,000, the share of uninsured shrank by 3.2 percentage points from the end of 2013.

Related: Top Dem Predicts Employer Mandate Will Be Repealed

The latest survey comes just as  Republicans continue their war on Obamacare. Last week, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that repealing Obamacare is still doable, despite millions gaining coverage under the law.

“I don’t think it can last,” Ryan said of the law in an interview with Bloomberg Television, adding that the GOP is still planning to unveil a replacement sometime this year.

Still, until more data from the administration becomes available, it will remain unclear exactly to what extent the new law has impacted the uninsured rate.

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