Obamacare “Success” Needs Closer Look

Published January 8, 2015

The New York Times today reports that the number of uninsured people in the U.S. has dropped to levels not seen in years (six, to be precise – apparently modern time began shortly before Obama was sworn in to office):

Health Care Sign-Ups Steady as Uninsured Rate Hits New Low

WASHINGTON — Sign-ups under President Barack Obama’s health care law grew slowly but steadily over the New Year’s holiday, as the share of Americans still lacking coverage hit its lowest level in years…

Meanwhile, a new Gallup survey found that 12.9 percent of the adult population remained without coverage in the last three months of 2014, the lowest share since the pollster began daily tracking of the uninsured in 2008, before Obama took office.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that the uninsured rate dropped 4.2 percentage points over the past year as the health law’s major coverage expansion went into effect. Other analysts have estimated that those gains translate to at least 10 million uninsured people getting coverage. A year ago 17.1 percent of adults were uninsured.

Needless to say, this is being touted as a success for Obamacare. The Gallup poll cited includes this comment:

The Affordable Care Act has accomplished one of its goals: increasing the percentage of Americans who have health insurance coverage. The uninsured rate as measured by Gallup has dropped 4.2 points since the requirement to have health insurance or pay a fine went into effect.

Well. And all this time I thought the goal wasn’t merely to increase the number of insured Americans, but to create “near-universal” health care. I guess if you just move the goalposts, it’s easy to redefine success.

Another thing should probably be pointed out regarding Obamacare’s triumphal reduction in the number of uninsured – to date, it puts it in the ballpark of what the number of uninsured was back during the period in which President Bill Clinton was trying to enact national health care reform because the number of uninsured was supposedly at catastrophic levels.

The numbers I found aren’t directly comparable because they come from different sources using different methodologies, and the Gallup number includes the elderly over age 65 (almost all of whom are in Medicare), but roughly speaking the 12.9 percent uninsured rate reported by Gallup for all adults at the end 2014 is probably not all that different than the approximately 17 percent rate for the non-elderly in 1993 and 1994 given in this 2001 paper by David Cutler and Johnathan Gruber.

So, congratulations, Obamacare. You’ve managed to enact a once-in-a-generation health care “solution” that  so far has managed to get the number of uninsured down around the levels that were so terrible they basically launched the current drive for national health reform.

Interesting definition of success.