A new Gallup poll released on Thursday finds that the U.S. uninsurance rate dropped to 16.1 percent — the lowest level in over a year — as Obamacare officially went into effect on January 1:
While the overall number is a modest decline from December’s 17.3 percent uninsurance rate, unemployed Americans have seen significant gains in health coverage since December. Since then, the uninsurance rate among this group has fallen by 6.7 percentage points. “The unemployed remain the subgroup with the highest uninsured rate at 34.1 percent, but the initial decline among this group suggests the healthcare law may be working as intended for unemployed adults,” wrote Gallup.
Non-white Americans also gained health care coverage between December and January, with their uninsurance rate falling by two percent.
To date, at least 2.2 million Americans have enrolled in private health plans through Obamacare’s state and federal insurance marketplaces. Another 6.3 million individuals were deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) between October and December.
It’s still unclear how many of the Medicaid enrollees are simply re-applying for coverage and how many are gaining it for the first time after becoming newly-eligible in states that expanded the program under Obamacare. But the drop in unemployed Americans’ uninsurance rate indicates that people who are struggling financially are likely taking advantage of Obamacare’s coverage options.
Assessing Obamacare’s total effect on the uninsured is impossible until the open enrollment season ends on March 31. Preliminary reports have indicated that most people who gained private coverage in the first three months had been previously insured — but that isn’t necessarily surprising considering that many junk insurance plans were outlawed by the health law beginning in 2014, encouraging people with those plans to enroll in new ones before the New Year in order to avoid a coverage gap.
Other surveys have suggested that uninsured Americans may be taking their time to assess coverage options under the health law. A Commonwealth Fund report from earlier this month found that just under six in ten potentially eligible uninsured adults who had either not visited an Obamacare marketplace or visited one without signing up for a policy said they plan to enroll by the end of March.