That doesn't make the law a success. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

It's a Fact: More People Have Health Insurance

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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That Gallup poll previewed in a Los Angeles Times storyat the end of last month was finally published today. As expected, it finds that the percentage of Americans without insurance has plunged.

As I've said before, be very careful about these polling results. This series shows the percentage of uninsured in the first quarter of 2014 at a little less than 16 percent, a drop of more than 1.5 percentage points from the end of 2013. Yet, earlier last year, Gallup also had an unexplained spike to 18 percent. My best guess is that the 2013 spike was just noise in the polling data. This drop is larger, but I wouldn't get too attached to Gallup's exact numbers or to the size of the reduction.

Nevertheless, Jonathan Cohn takes us through many indicators that there are more people with health insurance now than there were a year ago. That shouldn't be much of a surprise (and doesn't necessarily mean the Affordable Care Act is good policy). The detailed reporting has suggested that most people whose plans were canceled rolled over into new plans, and there's been no evidence of a large exodus of employers from job-linked insurance. So, yes, more people have insurance now.

Still, that leaves us with quite a few questions before anyone can say Obamacare is working as intended. One remaining big question is what will happen to premiums next year. Some increases would be expected, but will they be above or below longer-term health-care inflation trends? An even bigger question will be health-care inflation beyond exchange premiums. What's at stake there isn't just the success or failure of the ACA, but also the long-term federal budget deficit -- which is almost all about health-care inflation.

Greg Sargent emphasizes that Republicans now must deal with the plain fact that plenty of previously uninsured people now have insurance thanks to Obamacare. Perhaps, but that raises questions, too. This is my favorite: How many of those in the exchanges, in expanded Medicaid, and newly eligible for their parents' insurance plans are aware that they are covered by Obamacare? I've consistently guessed that a large number of people wouldn't make the connection, but we still have no data. The other question is how many of those people are happy with their new insurance. We don't know (just as we don't know how many of those with canceled insurance policies liked their insurance).

I see no reason to change my longstanding guess about the political effects if the ACA works as expected: Few voters will seek to reward Democrats no matter how successful the law turns out to be, but it will become increasingly difficult for Republicans to take away new benefits.

But in terms of the policy, the only thing we're really learning now is that claims that the law would collapse or that it was a flat-out failure are almost certainly wrong. We still have a long way to go before knowing anything else.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

(Jonathan Bernstein covers U.S. politics for Bloomberg View.He is co-editor of "The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012."Follow him onTwitter at @JBPlainblog.)

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