Uninsured Americans Drop Below 12% Of The Population
A new Gallup poll indicates that the number of people without health insurance has dropped below 12%:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The uninsured rate among U.S. adults declined to 11.9% for the first quarter of 2015 — down one percentage point from the previous quarter and 5.2 points since the end of 2013, just before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. The uninsured rate is the lowest since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in 2008.
The percentage of uninsured Americans climbed from the 14% range in early 2008 to over 17% in 2011, and peaked at 18.0% in the third quarter of 2013. The uninsured rate has dropped sharply since the most significant change to the U.S. healthcare system in the Affordable Care Act — the provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance — took effect at the beginning of 2014. An improving economy and a falling unemployment rate may also have accelerated the steep drop in the percentage of uninsured over the past year. However, the uninsured rate is significantly lower than it was in early 2008, before the depths of the economic recession, suggesting that the recent decline is due to more than just an improving economy.
The uninsured rate declined at a slightly slower pace following the second open enrollment period of the federal exchanges compared with the first. The first time around, the uninsured rate fell 1.5 points to 15.6% for the first quarter of 2014 from 17.1% for the fourth quarter of 2013. Comparatively, in that same time frame this year, the uninsured rate fell one point — from 12.9% to 11.9%.
Perhaps most significantly, the uninsured rate seems to have dropped most among demographic groups that have been most problematic when it comes to obtaining health insurance coverage:
While the uninsured rate has declined across all key demographic groups since the healthcare law fully took effect in January 2014, it has dropped most among lower-income Americans and Hispanics — the groups most likely to lack insurance. The uninsured rate among Americans earning less than $36,000 in annual household income dropped 8.7 points since the end of 2013, while the rate among Hispanics fell 8.3 points. The significant drop in uninsured Hispanics is a key accomplishment for the Obama administration, which led targeted efforts to insure this group as they had the highest uninsured population of all key subgroups. However, despite the gains in insurance coverage among Hispanics and lower-income Americans, these groups still have higher uninsured rates than other key subgroups.
Americans aged 26 to 34 have also seen gains in coverage since the healthcare law went into effect — the uninsured rate among this group is down 7.4 points since the end of 2013, the largest drop among any age group. Blacks have also seen a substantial drop in their uninsured rate since the fourth quarter of 2013 — 7.3 points.
These numbers, along with others from other sources that also show declines in the number of uninsured Americans, are obviously relevant to the ongoing debate over health care policy and the impact and legacy of the Affordable Care Act. Much as they did in 2012, Republicans seem intent on making repeal of the law an important part of their campaign in 2016, and it’s likely that we will see Republicans in both the House and the Senate attempt to pass measure to attempt to repeal or substantially modify the law as we get closer to the Presidential election. None of these proposals are likely to become law, of course, given the fact that President Obama would likely veto them, and most of them probably would not even make it to his desk since Democrats are likely to block them in the Senate using the legislative filibuster.
This means, of course, that the success or failure of the Affordable Care Act will be a big part of the election debate over the next nineteen months. Democrats will point to numbers such as this, was well as things such as the recent Congressional Budget Office report indicating that health care costs are likely to decline in coming years, in favor of their argument that the law is working and that Republican calls to dismantle it are meritless. Republicans, on the other hands, will point to reports that continue to come out about increased premium costs, as well as the fact that the policies that people are able to purchase under the exchanges today typically have much higher deductibles than used to be the case, which makes the overall cost of health care more expensive for the average American. Hanging over the debate will be King v. Burwell, the case currently pending in the Supreme Court over the issue of whether the tax subsidies permitted under the law apply only to exchanges established by the states, or whether they are also available for policies purchased on the exchanges established by the Federal Government in states that declined to set up their own exchanges. If the Justices rule in favor of the Plaintiff’s in that case, it could cause costs and premiums to increase t0 such an extent that some consumers will be unable to afford insurance. In that case, uninsured rates would likely rise again unless Congress acted to fix the law, which seems unlikely to happen.
We already had one Presidential election where the Affordable Care Act was the focus of attention, and we know how that turned out. Then, as now, Republicans argued both that the law would not work and that it was an improper intrusion of government into private business. In the end, though, what will matter to most voters is what the law means for their bottom line and the quality of their health care. If the impact turns out to be a positive one, which is obviously what Democrats are hoping for, then Republicans are likely to have a hard time convincing people to gut the law and return to a pre-PPACA status quo that was both far from perfect and, in the end, economically unsustainable. Their best option at that point would be to come up with a reform plan of their own, and explain how it would make things better. So far, however, they’ve largely failed to do that. If that continues to be the case then they are likely to find once again that campaigning against Obamacare isn’t the ticket to success they assumed it would be.
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