About a year ago, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) talked to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes about the Affordable Care Act, and the Republican was dismissive of the law’s effect on the uninsured rate. “It has not plummeted,” Gregg scoffed.
The more Chris stuck up for reality, the more indignant the retired senator became. “Your ability to understand your numbers is worse than Obama,” Gregg said, ignoring numbers that happened to be true.
I think about that exchange every time new data is released showing the effects “Obamacare” has had on the nation’s uninsured rate. The Huffington Post reported this morning on the latest figures, by way of the CDC, which Judd Gregg might find fascinating.
More than 7 million previously uninsured Americans gained health coverage in 2015, the second full year of the Obamacare coverage expansion, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.During the fourth quarter of last year, just 9.1 percent of U.S. residents, or 28.6 million people, had no health coverage, the National Health Interview Survey found. That’s a decline of 2.4 percentage points and 7.4 million people from a year before.The additional 7.4 million insured builds on the 8.8 million previously uninsured people who got covered in 2014, the first year of the Affordable Care Act’s full benefits.
The full report from the CDC is online here (pdf).
Now that the uninsured rate has dropped to 9.1%, it’s worth asking the question about historical context: when was the last time more than 90% of Americans had health insurance? Never. As long as officials have kept track of coverage totals, we’ve never seen figures as encouraging as these.
A year ago, Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) argued, in all seriousness, “There’s just about as many people uninsured now as there were before the Affordable Care Act.”
In light of the latest evidence, that’s not just wrong, it’s demonstrably ridiculous.
To be sure, health care reform was about many things, including strengthening the health security of those who already had coverage under the old system. But at its core, the principal reason for reform was the fact that millions of Americans were being left behind in a system that cost too much and covered too few. The ACA was necessary for a variety of reasons, but at the top of the list was bringing access to affordable care to those who had no insurance.
And while the uninsured rate is not yet 0%, the progress since the Affordable Care Act became law is as historic as it is undeniable.
Postscript: I’ve seen some arguments from the right that the fact that the uninsured rate is still 9% should be seen as proof that the ACA is coming up short. Or put another way, conservatives see the sharp drop in the uninsured rate and try to flip the script, effectively arguing, “If Obamacare were really effective, 10 out of 10 Americans would have coverage, not 9 out of 10.”
The problem is (a) this denies the progress that Republicans predicted wouldn’t happen; (b) it’s going to take more than a few years to push the overall total towards its literal floor; and (c) if GOP governors in red states would agree to accept Medicaid expansion, we’d see the current rate drop even lower in a hurry, but that’s not something the Obama administration can control.