Uninsured rate held steady in 2017, 28.5M without coverage: Census

September 12, 2018

The share of uninsured people in the U.S. remained static from 2016 to 2017, the Census Bureau said Wednesday in a report found 28.5 million people lacked health coverage in President Trump’s first year.

Bureau officials said the uninsured rate of 8.8 percent is not statistically different from the previous year’s level nationwide, though 14 states saw a noticeable increase in their uninsured rates and three California, Louisiana and New York saw a decrease.

Conservatives said the data is proof that President Obama’s health law continues to stagnate, despite early gains, though experts said Mr. Trump’s tweaks to the law could nudge the uninsured rate upward in future years.

Obamacare’s defenders, meanwhile, say Republicans could move the dial by fulling embracing the program in holdout states.

The data revealed disparities between states that had expanded Medicaid coverage under Obamacare by the start of 2017 and those that resisted.

States that extended coverage to able-bodied persons earning above the poverty level enjoyed a 6.5-percent uninsured rate, on average, compared to about 12 percent in non-expansion states.

A few states have moved to expand their Medicaid programs since the survey, while several more will allow voters to weigh in on the topic in November.

The Census Bureau releases data on health insurance each year as part of a pair of surveys that also look at income and poverty levels in America. Its findings are closely watched by policymakers who use the figures to guide their decisions.

All told, the bureau said two-thirds of those surveyed held private health insurance, while nearly 38 percent held government coverage. Some people may have held both types of coverage during the year.

Employer-based coverage was the most common, with nearly six in 10 people holding it for most of all of the year, followed by Medicaid coverage for the poor, at nearly 20 percent, and Medicare at just over 17 percent.

Sixteen percent of people bought private insurance on their own through the individual market, including Obamacare’s exchanges, which is not a significant change from 2016.

Signups on the exchanges have flatlined in recent years.

The law’s defenders say Mr. Trump dampened enthusiasm for the law upon taking office in January 2017, though the administration and its allies say people have been priced out of the individual market, especially if they didn’t qualify for subsidies that kept pace with Obamacare’s rising premiums.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative pressure group, said Wednesday the Census figures suggest Mr. Obama’s program is falling short, so Congress should take another stab at replacing it with a market-oriented system.

“Today’s report is another reminder that Obamacare has priced insurance out of the reach of millions of working families,” said foundation experts Marie Fishpaw and Doug Badger. “Despite a growing economy and very low unemployment rate, the uninsured rate remains virtually unchanged.”

Democrats who resisted repeal efforts in 2017 want to double-down on taxpayer-funded solutions that expand coverage.

Progressives are pushing a single-payer, “Medicare for all” plan, though the idea amounts to a rallying cry while Mr. Trump is in office and the GOP holds congressional majorities.

“New Census data continues to show the historic progress in reducing the number of people uninsured has stalled,” tweeted Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “In a different environment, we might be having a debate about how to change that.”

There has been movement in the states.

In the time since the Census’s survey, Maine voters approved a ballot measure to grab Obamacare dollars and expand Medicaid, though Republican Gov. Paul LePage has refused to implement it, citing budget concerns.

Virginia also opted to expand their program, with certain work requirements applied to the newly eligible.

Grass-roots advocates in three red states Idaho, Utah and Nebraska gathered enough signatures to let voters decide this fall whether to expand their programs, while Montanans will decide whether to extend the expansion, which would expire in 2019 unless the legislature acts.

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