Three million people gained insurance in 2012. Don’t thank Obamacare.

September 17, 2013

About 3 million people gained health insurance between 2011 and 2012, an increase that likely has little, if anything, to do with with the new health care law.

New Census data show that the country's uninsured rate fell from 15.7 percent in 2011 to 15.4 percent in 2012. Nearly all of that change appears to be attributable to enrollment in public programs such as Medicaid and Medicaid. Coverage in private health plans, like those that employers purchase, didn't budge.

"The percentage of people covered by government programs increased for the sixth consecutive year," David Johnson, chief of the social, economics, housing and statistics division at the Census, told reporters earlier today. "The increase in public coverage, and no statistical change, may account for increase in overall coverage."

The expansion of Medicare coverage, from 15.2 percent of the population in 2011 to 15.7 percent in 2012, can be clearly linked to demographics. As a wave of baby boomers hits their 65th birthday, we can expect to see the entitlement program's subscriber base grow.

As for the rise in the number of people in Medicaid, Obamacare may have played a small role. The health care law allowed states to expand their Medicaid programs before 2014, and a handful took the federal government up on the offer. Five states participated in that expansion.

These numbers differ from last year's, when Obamacare did seem to have a noticeable impact on insurance coverage. Then, the Census Bureau estimated that 40 percent of a drop in young adults' uninsured rate was due to a health law provision that allowed young adults to sign up for their parents' coverage until they turned 26.

Those gains appear to plateau in the new Census report, which shows no difference in coverage rates among 19- to 25-year-olds.

So, while we are seeing gains in coverage, its a stretch to count this one as a victory for Obamacare.

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Dylan Matthews · September 17, 2013