The uninsured rate increased to 11.3% in the first quarter of 2017 from a record low of 10.9% in the last half of 2016, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
Despite the dip, the rate is still 6.7 percentage points lower than it was at a high of 18% in 2013.
- Pollsters speculated that the drop may have been caused by uncertainty created by the prospect of healthcare reform following last year’s election.
Uninsured rates have been in the minds of many since significant healthcare reform became a distinct possibility late last year. While these numbers could be an aberration, they could also be a sign of things to come.
Uninsured rates will likely rise unless President Donald Trump's administration takes action to shore up insurance exchanges. Federal agencies have already taken two steps that may limit enrollment in exchanges this year. The IRS is rolling back enforcement of the individual mandate and HHS cancelled a $5 million advertising campaign to encourage enrollment, even though it had already been paid for.
CMS did issue a rule intended to stabilize insurance exchanges by making them more palatable to payers. However, this rule would likely discourage enrollment because it makes it more difficult for people to gain coverage during special enrollment periods. The rule would also allow payers to charge older patients more which, which could discourage enrollment.
The American Health Care Act was criticized by many for its projected effects on coverage rates. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the legislation would cause 24 million more people to be uninsured by 2026 than if current policy continued. While the AHCA has not achieved enough support to become law, Congress could reconsider the bill and Republican leadership has not exactly indicated that they value lower uninsured rates.
It is too early to tell what caused the recent drop in uninsured rates and whether it is a trend that will continue. Regardless, parties on both sides of the healthcare reform fight will likely try to spin the numbers to their advantage.