How Obamacare Is Helping Make The Country More Equal

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

A St. Louis-area nonprofit encourages people to sign up for Obamacare

An early look at who exactly signed up for Obamacare during its first year of enrollment reveals that the health reform law is benefiting the people who need it most, according to a New York Times analysis of a large set of data from Enroll America and Civis Analytics.

Enroll America is one of the nonprofit groups that’s been helping people sign up for new Obamacare plans. In order to try to get a more detailed sense of the millions of people who have gained health insurance in the past year, the organization partnered with a data firm to build a model of who was uninsured before and after the law’s marketplaces opened for business.

In the map below, it’s possible to see how the law is reshaping the landscape, particularly in the western half of the country (the darker red indicates a bigger drop in the percentage of uninsured residents):


CREDIT: New York Times

According to the New York Times, the data shows that Obamacare has ultimately “pushed back against inequality” by redistributing resources to many of the demographics that have been falling behind over the past few decades, like poor people, non-white people, and women. Now, the groups that have historically struggled to get access to coverage are gaining either federal subsidies to purchase private insurance or federal assistance to enroll in public insurance.

For instance, among the people who live in low-income areas, the uninsurance rate has declined from 26.4 percent to 17.5 percent over the past year — a nine point drop. People living in the wealthiest neighborhoods, on the other hand, started out with an uninsurance rate of less than 10 percent and only experienced a three point decline. Looking at those numbers plotted on a chart, it’s possible to see how Obamacare is narrowing the gaps among people of different incomes:

uninsured income

CREDIT: New York Times

Previous national surveys have also confirmed that low-income Americans are gaining coverage at a faster rate than their wealthier counterparts. That’s largely because the law was designed to benefit them. Obamacare gives the people who were previously locked out of the insurance market — because they had a pre-existing condition, because they couldn’t afford the cost of a monthly premium or a plan’s out-of-pocket costs, or because they made slightly too much money to qualify for their state’s Medicaid program — additional options for their coverage.

But the law isn’t being implemented equally across the country. The states that have worked to fully implement Obamacare — which involves agreeing to both accept the law’s optional Medicaid expansion and set up their own insurance marketplaces — have seen the largest drops in their uninsurance rates. Meanwhile, the GOP opponents to the law who have resisted those provisions currently lead the states with the highest number of uninsured people.

About four million low-income Americans are being denied access to coverage because their states have refused to expand Medicaid. Those people are disproportionately likely to be poor people of color.