GOP's pathetic Obamacare denialism: Why they're now ignoring historic new data

Our uninsured rate is now its lowest since Gallup began tracking 6 years ago. Here's what that means to the right

By Jim Newell
May 5, 2014 7:44PM (UTC)
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Marsha Blackburn, Ted Cruz (AP/Chris Usher/J. Scott Applewhite)

Gallup is out with its latest, hotly anticipated figures of the national uninsured rate that capture much of the late-March, early-April spree in health coverage signups. They are solid: 13.4 percent of adults are now uninsured, compared with 15 percent in the previous month. This marks "the lowest monthly uninsured rate recorded since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in January 2008."

Our friends on the right have already settled on a mantra in response: Silly Obamacare has only reduced the ranks of the uninsured by 1 percent since Obama's election. It is an interesting interpretation of the x-axis. As some may well remember, a wacky thing happened around Obama's election: the global economy collapsed and everyone and their mother lost their jobs. By the first quarter of 2009, the uninsured rate ballooned to 16%+, according to Gallup's poll, and hovered between 16-18 percent from 2009 until... the end of 2013, after which the Affordable Care Act kicked in. The rate may continue to improve as the economy continues to grow, however sluggishly, as more people enroll in Medicaid, more open enrollment periods come to pass and the employer mandate fully comes into effect (if it ever does).


It's also a tad rich for conservatives to decry the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act when their allies in state government have been doing their darndest to thwart any and all extensions of coverage. As Gallup notes, "the uninsured rate, on average, has dropped more in states that have elected to expand Medicaid and run their own healthcare exchanges than in states that have not." In other words, if Republicans are going to scoff at the rate of decrease in uninsurance so far, there are things they can do about that. 

But why would they do that? To help people? Ehh, help is overrated. Winning elections is fun! And the numbers show that the people most helped by Obamacare are those demographics that do not much care for the Republican party.

The Gallup survey shows that the rate of uninsured dropped "across nearly every key demographic group," but adds that the decline was sharpest among low-income Hispanics and African-Americans:


The rate dropped more among blacks than any other demographic group, falling 7.1 percentage points to 13.8%. Hispanics were expected to disproportionately benefit from the Affordable Care Act -- commonly referred to as "Obamacare" -- because they are the subgroup with the highest uninsured rate. Although the percentage of uninsured Hispanics, at 33.2%, is down 5.5 points since the end of 2013, this rate is still the highest by far across key demographic groups.

Similarly, the uninsured rate among lower-income Americans -- those with an annual household income of less than $36,000 -- has also dropped by 5.5 points, to 25.2%, since the fourth quarter of 2013.

And perhaps you noticed that Gallup said the rate of insured dropped across nearly every key demographic group: The one demographic group in which it didn't was those over 65 years of age, in which a 0.2 percent increase in uninsurance was measured. (Fortunately for those folks, they benefit from the nefarious government-pays-your-bills program "Medicare.")

The rate of uninsured Americans is only one metric that will be used to measure the success of the ACA, but it's one in which success, so far at least, won't translate to increased bipartisan support. So far it has laudably boosted coverage among groups with traditionally high numbers of uninsured -- groups that vote heavily Democratic, in large part because Republicans don't even try to win their votes. And since changes in the rate of uninsured are essentially negligible among seniors -- who flock out in high numbers to push the button for Republicans on midterm election days -- there's no damage done to Republican victory prospects by continuing to trash the law.

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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