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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks before signing a Presidential Memorandum on modernizing the overtime system to help insure workers are paid fairly for their work while in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 13, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing U.S. President Barack Obama speaks before signing a Presidential Memorandum on modernizing the overtime system to help insure workers are paid fairly for their work while in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 13, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing  

Uninsured rate lowest of Obama administration

A Gallup survey found Monday that the percentage of Americans without health insurance is at its lowest since 2008, the year before President Obama took office.

The poll found that the uninsured rate has fallen from 17.1 percent to 15.6 percent since the health care law began in January, largely thanks in part to the highly subsidized coverage available on Obamacare exchanges. The drop corresponds to about 3.5 million people gaining health coverage.

While Gallup’s figures provided a needed dose of optimism for the Obama administration on the health care law, they also make clear that Obamacare exchanges are more often than not providing coverage to those who already had health insurance, but switched over due to a canceled plan or to become eligible for a subsidy.

Insurers and experts have repeatedly found that most exchange customers were not previously uninsured. Though the Obama administration has heavily plugged its 7.1 million enrollees in private coverage and 3 million new Medicaid enrollees, the latest survey from RAND Corporation found that less than a third of exchange sign-ups so far are uninsured.

And because those without prior coverage are less likely to end up purchasing their plan, the final tally of newly insured may be even lower.

The Gallup survey includes only adults, however, and the administration’s figures include children. But the study didn’t distinguish between Medicaid and private insurance purchases. It also did not adjust for baby boomers becoming eligible for Medicare, which is not related to Obamacare.

The Obama administration has not yet released any detailed information on Obamacare sign-ups other than that 7.1 million have selected plans.

An unnamed Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official told the Daily Mail that the numbers could be mostly Medicaid.

“Whether Gallup spins this as a net gain on insured-versus-uninsured numbers is up to them,” the official said, “but they’re really comparing apples to oranges unless they separate insurance buyers from people who have it handed to them” through Medicaid programs.

“We all knew this would be a giant Medicaid boom,” the official said of the health care law.

The uninsured rate for those with less than $36,000 annual income fell by 3.2 percent to a still-significant 27.5 percent. That group is likely to include both those able to purchase private health plans with a subsidy on the exchanges and those with the lowest incomes who qualify for Medicaid coverage.

The uninsured rate for blacks fell by 3.3 percent, the largest margin of any subgroup. But percentage of uninsured Hispanics remained high, falling by just 1.7 percent to a whopping 37 percent. Hispanics have by far the largest uninsured rate — in comparison, the rate is 10.7 percent for whites and 17.6 percent for blacks.

The drop also highlights the surge in the uninsured population that occurred during President Obama’s first term. While the uninsured rate is at a recent low, it’s just getting down to the existing rates before the Obama administration and potentially before the 2008 stock market crash and resulting recession.

After the first quarter in 2008, just 14.6 percent of adults in the U.S. were uninsured. The rate grew to 15.4 by the fourth quarter. But the rate of the uninsured grew and remained high throughout the rest of President Obama’s time in office until now, reaching its zenith of 18 percent when many insurers were forced to cancel plans due to looming Obamacare regulations.

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