Uninsured Rate Drops as Obamacare Starts, Gallup Finds

The percentage of adults without health insurance in the U.S. fell this month to the lowest level since the end of 2012 as the core provisions of Obamacare took effect, a Gallup poll found.

The uninsured rate dropped to 16.1 percent in the Jan. 2-19 poll, from 17.3 percent in December, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The uninsured rate fell more for nonwhites and for those 35- to 64-years-old.

The ability to extend health care to most of the nation’s 48 million uninsured will be a main measure of success for the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. The people benefiting most so far appear to be those who are unemployed, where Gallup said the uninsured rate fell 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 health-care law may be working as intended for unemployed adults,” Jenna Levy, a methodologist at Gallup, wrote in the report.

The Affordable Care Act, which mainly took full effect Jan. 1, marks the largest U.S. expansion of health insurance in more than 40 years. The law set up government-run insurance exchanges where Americans can buy private health plans with the help of federal tax credits. It also expanded eligibility in some state-run Medicaid programs for the poor.

2.2 Million Enrollees

David Simas, a deputy senior adviser to President Barack Obama, called the Gallup findings good news. “It shows that the law is working,” he said on a conference call with reporters.

U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who is vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the health law was “a far cry from ‘success’ by any measure.”

“More people who are signing up through the exchanges are those who had already received cancellation notices because of the president’s broken promise than who were previously without insurance,” Blackburn said in an e-mail.

About 2.2 million Americans signed up for private health plans on federal- and state-run insurance exchanges from Oct. 1 through Dec. 28, according to the Obama administration. About 1.6 million others who sought coverage in the exchanges were determined to be eligible for Medicaid.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is “currently ramping up an aggressive sustained outreach campaign to help get as many Americans signed up for health insurance as possible,” Joanne Peters, an agency spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. The deadline to enroll for 2014 coverage is March 31.

Gallup said it couldn’t determine whether the total decline in the uninsured rates were attributable to Obamacare or to broader trends.

Today’s report is only a “very preliminary snapshot,” of what’s happening, Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup index, said in a telephone interview. “Whether it’s good news or bad news is in the eye of the beholder.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Caroline Chen in New York at cchen509@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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