Ever since it was first proposed, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, has been the subject of fierce debate. Yet lost in the tussles about the ins and outs of the program and how it works has been the stated initial purpose of Obamacare: to provide universal healthcare coverage options for as many Americans as possible. The results of a new study [opens PDF] from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics have drawn attention back toward that fundamental goal of healthcare reform, and the conclusions it draws from early trends show that Obamacare has helped the U.S. make substantial progress toward more inclusive healthcare coverage for all. Let's take a closer look at five reasons Obamacare supporters are happy about what they're seeing from the program.
1. Total numbers of uninsured Americans are declining rapidly.
Overall, the number of people covered by health insurance has climbed dramatically. Last year, about 36 million people didn't have health insurance coverage, according to the study, representing about 11.5% of the American population. Yet over the first three months of 2015, that number has fallen to 29 million, or 9.2% of the population.
Doing the math, the figures suggest that seven million people have managed to find healthcare coverage. The study doesn't specifically break down the numbers for the entire U.S. population between those who obtained coverage through Obamacare exchanges and those who obtained their own private health insurance, but as you'll see below, both routes to coverage have had at least some impact on coverage.
2. Among working-age adults, private insurance has helped reduce the ranks of the uninsured.
In the first three months of 2015, about 13% of adults between ages 18 and 64 didn't have health insurance coverage. That figure was down by more than three percentage points since 2014, and it has fallen from 22.3% in 2010.
As you can see in the chart above, most of the gain since last year has come from a jump in private insurance coverage, which climbed from 67.3% a year ago to 70.4% in early 2015. Over the past few years, both public and private coverage rates have improved and helped to produce the substantial reduction in the number of uninsured Americans.
3. Adults in all age categories have seen insurance coverage rise.
Many Obamacare opponents have argued that healthcare reform would disproportionately result in higher participation among older, less healthy Americans than from younger and healthier participants. As the chart below shows, though, that generally hasn't been the case, with big declines in uninsured rates among all age cohorts.
Admittedly, the oldest working-age group of Americans has by far the lowest incidence of being uninsured. Yet the percentage declines over time for those age 18 to 34 have been substantially larger than the corresponding drop in percentage points among middle-age workers, and young adults are finding ways to get coverage even in a tough economy in which they're struggling to make ends meet financially.
4. More children under 18 have private insurance than last year, ending a 14-year downward streak.
One key concern among healthcare policymakers is ensuring that children get the healthcare they need. Even before Obamacare became low, uninsured rates among children had been in a long-term decline, but that trend has continued in recent years. In early 2015, just 4.6% were uninsured.
The difference with Obamacare, though, is that 2015 has seen private insurance coverage rates among children increase, reversing a 14-year trend that saw public coverage play the dominant role in increasing children's insurance availability. Indeed, a decline in public coverage points to the idea that Obamacare-influence private insurance is starting to address the key children's healthcare issue to a greater extent than in the past.
5. Significantly more people are getting coverage from Obamacare exchanges.
Overall, the number of people who use Obamacare exchanges to get private insurance is still relatively small. According to the CDC study, more than 179 million Americans had private insurance in early 2015, but just 9.7 million of those were covered under exchange-provided healthcare plans.
Nevertheless, that small number is up considerably from last year's totals. In the fourth quarter of 2014, only 6.7 million people got coverage from the state and federal exchanges, and that pushed the percentage of people using Obamacare exchanges to get insurance up dramatically from year-ago levels.
Not everyone agrees that Obamacare has been successful, and beyond simply providing coverage, reasonable disagreements about the cost and efficiency of the federal program will last for years to come. From the standpoint of raw health insurance coverage availability, though, the Affordable Care Act has helped get more people insured in its brief but colorful history.