The uninsured rate is dropping. Don’t thank Obamacare yet.

January 23

1. Gallup's new poll on the uninsured rate shows a modest decline in January. The monthly poll shows that 16.1 percent of Americans report not having health coverage. This is the lowest rate that Gallup has found since December 2012.


2. January is, incidentally, the month that the Obamacare insurance expansion started. Counting how many people gained coverage because of the law is very difficult, for some reasons explored here. It's probably safe to estimate that a few million people gained insurance coverage through the health law's new program. But there were also millions of people who lost coverage with the health-care law, since their individual market plans didn't meet new requirements. There's some overlap between these two groups: People who were buying on the exchange include those who lost their coverage. We don't know how much overlap exactly there is.

3. Some analysts expected that, because millions of Americans were having their individual policies canceled, we could actually see a spike in the uninsured rate in January. The Gallup poll seems to rule that out, as there's no big jump in those reporting a lack of coverage.

4. At the same time, the small decrease in the uninsured rate is difficult to attribute directly to Obamacare right now. You'll notice in the chart above that the uninsured rate has been trending downward this entire year, likely a product of a declining unemployment rate and greater access to employer-sponsored insurance. At the same time, the Gallup poll does have some evidence that employment isn't the entire story. They show that the biggest declines in the uninsured rate are among those who are unemployed. The uninsured rate among the unemployed fell from 40.8 percent in December 2013 to 34.1 percent in January. These are people who aren't getting access to insurance through their jobs.


5. Even the White House is a bit cautious about attributing this small decline to the health-care law. “Look, it is certainly good news that there a drop in the rate of the uninsured," David Simas, White House deputy senior adviser for communications and strategy, told reporters on a call Thursday afternoon. "While the poll is consistent with enrollment numbers, the enrollment released by HHS each month is really the best data to rely on."

6. Gallup releases a tracking poll each month, so it will be important to keep an eye on where the uninsured rate heads from here. This initial take likely rules out the possibility of Obamacare driving up uninsured rates. But whether the law has driven those numbers down, that's far too soon to say.

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