- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The share of the U.S. populace that didn’t have health insurance remained static from 2016 to 2017, the Census Bureau said Wednesday in a report that found Obamacare’s gains continued to stall and that 28.5 million Americans lacked health care coverage in President Trump’s first year.

Uninsured rates increased slightly, by up to 1 percentage point, in more than a dozen states and decreased noticeably in three states — California, Louisiana and New York — as Mr. Trump took the reins from President Obama.

The numbers suggest that Obamacare was sputtering before Mr. Trump had a chance to make big changes.

“For the past couple years, the uninsured rate and the number has been pretty stable,” said Rachel Garfield, senior researcher at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “Obviously in 2014, with the major coverage expansion, there was a very large change and again in the following year, but things started to level off as most people who wanted to enroll in those coverage options did.”

The Census Bureau said the uninsured rate nationwide was 8.8 percent, statistically equivalent to the previous year, though roughly 400,000 fewer people held insurance.

Conservatives said stagnation proves Obamacare isn’t doing much good and should be replaced. Defenders of the Affordable Care Act, meanwhile, say there is room to boost enrollment if more states fully embrace Obamacare by expanding Medicaid coverage.

States that extended coverage to able-bodied people earning above the poverty level showed a 6.5 percent uninsured rate, on average, compared with about 12 percent in states that did not expand coverage, according to the census report.

The Census Bureau releases data on health insurance each year as part of a broader report on income and poverty levels in America. Policymakers closely watch the findings and use the figures to guide their decisions.

Texas had the highest uninsured rate in 2017 — at 17.3 percent — and Massachusetts had the lowest, at under 3 percent, the report said.

The bureau said two-thirds of Americans with insurance held private coverage and nearly 38 percent received government coverage. Some may have held multiple types of coverage during the year.

Employer-based coverage was the most common, with 56 percent holding it at some point in 2017, followed by Medicaid coverage for the poor, at 19 percent, and Medicare for the elderly at just over 17 percent. Sixteen percent of people bought private insurance through the individual market, including Obamacare’s exchanges, which was not a significant change from 2016.

The number of enrollments on the exchanges has plateaued in recent years.

The law’s defenders say Mr. Trump dampened prospects of cutting the uninsured rate by decrying Obamacare from his first day in office in January 2017 and slashing outreach and advertising dollars for the program.

Yet the president’s major proposed changes took effect this year, after the census study period. The biggest change — Congress’ move to eliminate the individual mandate penalty — doesn’t apply until next year.

Instead, Mr. Trump and his allies say, Obamacare is suffering from its own design: rising prices, especially for those who don’t qualify for federal subsidies that increase with Obamacare’s premiums.

“Today’s report is another reminder that Obamacare has priced insurance out of the reach of millions of working families,” said Heritage Foundation analysts Marie Fishpaw and Doug Badger. “Despite a growing economy and very low unemployment rate, the uninsured rate remains virtually unchanged.”

Democrats in Congress who resisted repeal efforts last year want to double down on taxpayer-funded solutions that expand coverage for the millions left behind by Obama-era reforms.

Left-wing activists are pushing for a single-payer “Medicare for all” plan.

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