Census data confirms connection between Obamacare and record-low uninsured rate

But states that did not embrace ACA provisions continue to see higher uninsured rates.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The number of people without health insurance fell to 8.8 percent in 2016, or 28.1 million — a record low.

The uninsured rate between 2015 and 2016 decreased by 0.3 percent. In 2015, the percentage of people without health insurance coverage for the entire calendar year was 9.1 percent or 29 million. The U.S. Census Bureau announced its new findings Tuesday as lawmakers on Capitol Hill negotiated how best to stabilize the Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual marketplace.

About two-thirds of Americans are covered by private plans. Most people have employer-based insurance (49 percent) rather than insurance purchased on the ACA marketplace (7 percent).

Still, the data shows a correlation between the ACA implementation and the steep drop in the uninsured rate. The Census Bureau’s assistant division chief of employment characteristics Jennifer Cheeseman Day said the data “cannot tease out the change between [health] policy versus change in economy.” She continued that it is “undeniable” that there were major improvements to the uninsured rate after the passage of the ACA, in 2010; major provisions did not kick in until 2014:

Credit: the U.S. Census Bureau
Credit: the U.S. Census Bureau

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, 41.8 million people in 2013 were uninsured. Since its passage, every state has seen a drop in the uninsured:

Credit: the U.S. Census Bureau
Credit: the U.S. Census Bureau

States that did not embrace ACA provisions — specifically, expanding Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — continue to see higher uninsured rates compared to so-called expansion states:

Credit: the U.S. Census Bureau
Credit: the U.S. Census Bureau

Even as data shows the ACA helped people gain coverage, calls to repeal the law lingered during health hearings on the Hill Tuesday. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said steep premium rates are the reason to repeal the health law. It’s true that many insurance companies are raising premiums on the individual marketplace. Most people who buy insurance qualify for federal subsidies — about 84 percent — and will be protected by premium increases.

Lawmakers are not in agreement to how immediately address rising 2018 premiums. There’s nearly a consensus among lawmakers and health experts, who testified before Congress this month, who say the federal government should pay cost sharing subsidies to insurance companies. The exception: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) who called these payments “bailouts.” During his own committee hearing on health costs and coverage, he sounded very much against his Republican colleagues effort to stabilize the ACA. It’s sounding more and more likely that partisan politics are making their way into bipartisan stabilization talks.