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Millions gaining coverage under Obamacare

April 7, 2014 - Jim Anderson
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which measures the share of adults without health insurance in the U.S., was reported today at 15.6 percent for the first quarter of 2014.

That’s down from 17.1 percent at the end of 2013. The decline of 1.5 percentage points translates roughly to more than 3.5 million people gaining coverage, the Associated Press estimates.

It’s relatively good news for the Obama administration, offering evidence against critics who have portrayed the Affordable Care Act as a wheel-spinning mess.

“The uninsured rate has been falling since the fourth quarter of 2013, after hitting an all-time high of 18 percent in the third quarter — a sign that the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as 'Obamacare,' appears to be accomplishing its goal of increasing the percentage of Americans with health insurance coverage,” Gallup said in releasing the survey’s findings.

Gallup’s numbers, however, suggest a more modest gain in coverage than what the administration has touted. According to the White House, 7.1 million people have signed up for subsidized private plans through Obamacare’s exchanges. An additional 3 million previously uninsured people have gained coverage through the law's Medicaid expansion, officials say.

There are some explanations for the apparent discrepancies in insurance gains. The White House figure of 7.1 million exchange sign-ups includes insured people who switched their previous coverage. It also includes people who have not paid their first month's premium, and who would therefore still be uninsured, the AP notes.

And, while Gallup is counting just adults, the administration counts children as well.

Also, Gallup’s 15.6 percent uninsured figure is an average for the entire quarter, while the administration’s numbers are pegged to the end of March.

“The current figure as of today is likely lower given that uninsured rates declined throughout the quarter, including in late March,” Gallup said. Within the month of March, as sign-ups surged, the uninsured rate dropped more than a point, from 15.8 percent in the first half of the month to 14.7 percent in the second half.

That additional drop would boost Gallup’s estimate closer to the figures cited by the administration.

Gallup says it will continue to track the U.S. uninsured rate in the months ahead. And, as the AP notes, it may take much of the rest of the year to get a true bottom line of the health care law's impact on coverage.



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