- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Four million more Americans held health insurance in 2015 than in 2014, according to Census report Tuesday that found 29 million people were still not covered and that Hispanics lagged behind other race or ethnic groups in getting covered, despite widespread gains attributed to Obamacare.

The uninsured rate dropped by 1.3 percentage points, to 9.1 percent for the 2015 calendar year, as coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act took root.

Starting in 2014, qualified Americans could enroll in private plans with the help of taxpayer-funded subsidies on web-based exchanges, while states could opt to expand Medicaid, the government-run insurance program for the poor.

Earlier this month, an administration report said the uninsured rate has dropped even further than 2015 numbers revealed by the Census — to 8.6 percent — after Obamacare’s third round of signups finished up in the first quarter of 2016.

The Census said employer-based plans continued to be the dominant form of insurance in the U.S. in 2015, covering 55.7 percent of the population, followed by Medicaid at 19.6 percent, Medicare at 16.3 percent, direct-purchase at 6.3 percent and military health care at 4.7 percent.

Census officials attributed coverage gains in part to Obamacare, which ushered in a series of significant changes to the health insurance landscape in 2014. Besides offering more routes to taxpayer-subsidized coverage, insurers could no longer deny sick customers, while the government mandated most Americans to get covered or pay a tax penalty, so healthier customers would be prodded into the market.

In 2015, the percentage of people lacking health insurance dropped across all ages below 65 for the second year in a row, according to the Census.

Hispanics still had the highest uninsured rate, at 16.2 percent, even though they showed a greater rate of insurance gains from 2014 to 2015 than other groups.

Non-Hispanic whites had the lowest uninsured rate, at 6.7 percent, while the uninsured rates for black and Asians stood at 11.1 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.

President Obama and his Democratic allies say the U.S. could inch closer to universal coverage if additional states joined the 32 that have expanded their Medicaid programs under Obamacare to those making 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The Census said Texas, which has not expanded its program, had the highest uninsured rate in the country in 2015, at 17.6 percent.

Massachusetts, which expanded its program and paved the way for Mr. Obama’s 2010 health law with state-level reforms a decade ago, had the lowest uninsured rate, at 2.8 percent.

Yet Republican critics say Medicaid expansion will bust federal and state budgets down the road, while major insurers have withdrawn from several of Obamacare’s exchanges, citing a sicker-than-expected customer base in the early rounds.

Seventeen out of 23 nonprofit coop plans have also failed, leaving fewer choices in the exchanges amid concerns about skyrocketing premiums for 2017.

“It’s no wonder my office continues to hear from people who are desperate for relief from this law,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday.

Republicans also say coverage gains were won by force, through an unpopular mandate to get covered, and that many enrollees still face high out-of-pocket costs.

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