CREDIT: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
The U.S. uninsurance rate has hit another five-year low as Americans continue enrolling in health coverage during Obamacare’s first open enrollment period, according to a new Gallup survey. All told, the uninsurance rate in the first three months of 2014 stood at 15.9 percent, compared to 17.1 percent in the last quarter of 2013 — and the largest drops in uninsurance occurred among African Americans and lower-income people, who are among the most likely to benefit from the ACA’s financial assistance.
“The uninsured rate for almost every major demographic group has dropped in 2014 so far,” wrote the Gallup researchers. “The percentage of uninsured Americans with an annual household income of less than $36,000 has dropped the most — by 2.8 percentage points — to 27.9% since the fourth quarter of 2013, while the percentage of uninsured blacks has fallen 2.6 points to 18.3%. Hispanics remain the subgroup most likely to lack health insurance, with an uninsured rate of 37.9%.”
Last month, Gallup reported that the uninsurance rate had fallen to 16 percent as the Obama administration announced that 3.3 million people had signed up for private insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s state and federal marketplaces.
That number has now surpassed four million, according to administration officials. The White House is expected to release detailed figures about the number of enrollments between October and February next week.
Another factor likely contributing to the fall in uninsurance is the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. According to a recent analysis by Avalere Health, the combination of the Medicaid expansion and widespread coverage of the Obamacare signup season boosted Medicaid enrollment by 41 percent in expansion states and by 13 percent even in non-expansion states between October through January. Somewhere between 2.4 million and 3.5 million Americans signed up for Medicaid for the first time in those four months, according to the analysis.
The new Gallup data adds some context to a recent report by consulting group McKinsey finding that just 27 percent of Americans who have enrolled in private plans through Obamacare marketplaces were previously uninsured. Charles Gaba, who is tracking Obamacare signups on the website ACASignups.net, has questioned just how accurate those figures are considering that McKinsey included both those who signed up through an official ACA marketplace and those who signed up directly with an insurer off of the exchanges. It’s possible that most people who signed up off the marketplaces were already insured and looking for a new ACA-compliant plan and that a far bigger share of people enrolling through the exchanges previously lacked insurance.
Regardless, Gallup also reported several encouraging trends regarding the uninsured and Obamacare. A separate survey from last week found that at least 55 percent of the uninsured say they plan to buy insurance this year rather than pay a fine, and that more than half of the uninsured who say they will buy insurance plan to do so through an Obamacare marketplace.