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The Number Of Americans Without Health Insurance Rose for the First Time Since Obamacare

Uninsured rates had been declining since Obama's landmark health law was enacted in 2010.

by Emma Ockerman
Sep 10 2019, 4:43pm

The rate of Americans without health insurance coverage spiked in 2018, according to government data — reversing some of the gains achieved by Obamacare.

Last year, 27.5 million Americans went without insurance, or about 8.5 percent of the population overall, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey. That’s compared to the 7.9 percent of Americans that went without insurance in 2017.

The gain of approximately 2 million uninsured residents marks the first significant drop in coverage since the Affordable Care Act was widely implemented in 2014.

Andy Slavitt, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter that “no one is winning here” as the rate of uninsured Americans climbs.

“It is exactly as we feared and worse than last year,” Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University, said in a tweet after the data was released.

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The trend could be attributed to a variety of factors, including rising health care costs driving people to simply skip coverage, but it’s worth noting that the government’s health care law has been under consistent attack ever since the Trump administration took office.

For one, the federal government is currently tangled up in a massive, controversial lawsuit brought by Republican states to tear the entire law down and, presumably, start over. And Republicans removed a tax on uninsured people called the “individual mandate,” which incentivized more people to receive coverage. It was widely predicted that without the tax, more people would weigh the risk and go without costly health insurance.

However, the rollback of that tax wasn’t set to take full effect until 2019. The Congressional Budget Office previously predicted it would spur 4 million people to drop coverage this year.

Additionally, there was a significant dip Medicaid enrollment, or coverage through the government’s health care program for the poor and disabled. In turn, the poverty rate has also declined in America to its lowest level since 2001, at 11.8 percent after a decrease of 0.5 percentage points.

Still, the Census Bureau doesn’t explain why Medicaid enrollment may have dropped.

The Trump administration has previously tried to restrict enrollment in the health care program by approving so-called “work requirements” on people who want to achieve coverage. Once approved in Arkansas, such work requirements led to 18,000 people losing their benefits — largely due to bureaucratic headaches, rather than people refusing to work. A federal judge blocked the program from continuing in March.

And children in particular appeared to be pulling out of Medicaid, the data shows. The rate of uninsured children increased to 5.5% to about 4.3 million in 2018, a gain of 0.6 percentage points from 3.9 million 2017. That means approximately 425,000 children became uninsured through the course of the year, according to Census data.

That might be because the Trump administration proposed a “public charge” rule that made immigrant families fear enrolling their enrolling children in the health care program could affect the legal status of their parents down the road.

Cover: Physician's assistant Ryan Conrad listens to patient America Montes, 8-months-old, as her mother Nancy Espino, left, holds her hand during a well-baby checkup at the Denver Health Sam Sandos Westside Health Center January 25, 2018. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)