The share of Americans without health coverage had been falling for years, but the newest annual report from the Census Bureau shows that it stalled out at 8.8 percent in 2017. This marks the first year since Obamacare was implemented that the uninsured rate failed to decline, even slightly.
This is not exactly a surprise—previous data, including from the National Health Interview Survey, have suggested that the uninsured rate stagnated last year. But the fresh figures do confirm that Obamacare’s coverage expansion was largely exhausted as of Donald Trump’s first year in office. The fraction of Americans without a health plan began dropping dramatically after the law’s Medicaid expansion and insurance exchanges went live in 2014—but progress slowed within a few years. In 2017 ground to a halt, despite an improving economy where more Americans are able to find coverage through their jobs.
It’s not quite right to blame Donald Trump for this round of numbers. After all, Obamacare open-enrollment for 2017 started before he was in office, and the White House’s efforts to sabotage the ACA only swung into high gear late last year, after it became clear the law wouldn’t be repealed. So to some extent, the new Census report can be read as showing that Obamacare had mostly bumped up against the limits of its natural effectiveness, given the political environment (if more red states had been willing to embrace the Medicaid expansion, the uninsured rate would have dropped further; happily, the expansion will be on the ballot in a few smaller states this November). Still, our president has done plenty to vandalize the insurance markets, above all by repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate requiring Americans to buy coverage. The uninsured rate may have only stalled last year, but it’s pretty clearly going to rise.
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