- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Two southern states with key Senate contests have seen the sharpest drops in their uninsured rates since Obamacare’s rule requiring Americans to hold health insurance took effect at the start of this year, according to Gallup.

The pollsters said Arkansas and Kentucky saw 10-point and 8.5-point drops, respectively, in their percentage of uninsured residents, followed by Delaware, Washington State, Colorado, West Virginia, Oregon, California, New Mexico and Connecticut.

Each of these states expanded Medicaid to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level and set up an Obamacare health exchange on their own or through a state-federal partnership.

“While a majority of Americans continue to disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate is declining, as the law intended,” Gallup said, noting the nation’s uninsured rate peaked at 18 percent in the third quarter of 2013 before sliding to 13.4 percent by the second quarter of this year.

Democratic candidates in key Senate races have not offered full-throated support for Obamacare, since it is unpopular overall and linked to President Obama, whose favorability ratings are poor.

Republicans are using Obamacare’s prior failures, and the potential for higher premiums and narrow doctor networks once consumers use their coverage, in a bid to gain six seats and take over the Senate.

That includes Arkansas’ race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and Rep. Tom Cotton, his Republican challenger.

Arkansas pioneered a “private option” to expand Medicaid by leveraging federal dollars to buy regular health insurance for its expansion population instead of dumping them into the government health program.

The Pryor campaign has accused Mr. Cotton, through his opposition to Obamacare, of putting more than 100,000 private-option enrollees at risk of losing coverage.

In Kentucky, meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, is trying to stave off Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Kentucky was the only southern state to both expand Medicaid and set up a state exchange on its own, with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear leading the charge.

The exchange’s website functioned relatively well during the open enrollment from October to mid-April, earning the state plaudits, despite anti-Obamacare sentiment from both of the state’s U.S. senators.

Republican foes have noted that coverage gains may be fleeting, as enrollees fail to pay their premiums, and that Americans were mandated by law to gain insurance.