The number of Americans lacking health insurance ticked up slightly last year, marking the first annual increase in the uninsured rate in nearly a decade, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday.
The uninsured rate rose from 7.9 percent in 2017 to 8.5 percent last year, as the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act took hold.
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The Census figures, considered the authority on insurance numbers, showed the first year-to-year increase in the uninsured rate since 2008 to 2009, at the height of the financial crisis and before the ACA became law. Roughly 27.5 million Americans didn’t have health insurance at any point last year, an increase of roughly 2 million people from 2017.
Still, the nation’s uninsured rate isn’t nearly as high as it was a decade ago, before Obamacare was enacted in 2010. However, the numbers show that insurance gains under the health care law have stalled and are appearing to reverse as the Trump administration leads efforts to pare back its insurance markets and shrink enrollment in safety net programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Declines in public insurance coverage were the sharpest last year, even as the percentage of those covered by Medicare, the health program for seniors, increased. The number of people covered by Medicaid, the health program insuring poor Americans, decreased by .7 percentage points, after seeing significant growth under Obamacare’s expansion in recent years. Census officials did not attribute a cause for the decline.
By contrast, the percentage of people with private health coverage did not change materially, the Census Bureau reported.
The Trump administration has approved Medicaid work requirements in nine states, with the rules generally applying to low-income adults who gained coverage since 2014 under the Obamacare expansion. However, most of those requirements have not taken effect.
In Arkansas, the first state where the rules went into effect briefly, the employment conditions led to roughly 18,000 people losing their benefits last year before a federal judge blocked the program. However, the Census found no statistically significant change in the state’s uninsured rate last year.
Federal officials have also moved to reduce legal immigration from individuals who are deemed likely to qualify for public benefits, a move that advocates and experts say could cause a chilling effect for health insurance coverage rates.
The Census estimates found that the uninsured rate declined in three states — New York, South Carolina and Wyoming — and rose in eight states: Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Washington state. Most states saw no statistically significant change.