- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An estimated 3.2 million Americans became uninsured during President Trump’s first year, Gallup said Tuesday in a survey that says rising premiums, declining competition in Obamacare markets and confusion over the GOP’s repeal plans drove the losses.

The polling company said the uninsured rate stood at 12.2 percent at the end of last year, an increase of 1.3 percentage points since the close of 2016.

It is the largest single-year increase that Gallup has measured since it started keeping track a decade ago.

Every demographic group saw an increase in uninsured persons last year — except those over age 65, who qualify for Medicare.

Blacks, Hispanics and households earning $36,000 or less saw their uninsured rates spike the most, Gallup said.

Pollsters blamed a series of factors for the increase. Obamacare continues to fall short of enrollment targets, prompting many insurers to raise rates or drop out of the program because they’re losing money on a market that has too many pricey, sicker customers.

Gallup said the premium hikes and lack of competition might have scared off customers, especially ones who don’t qualify for taxpayer-funded subsidies on the program’s web exchanges.

“Further, media coverage of the policies to repeal and replace the healthcare law may have caused some consumers to question whether the government would enforce the penalty for not having insurance,” it said.

Republicans did, ultimately, repeal the “individual mandate” requiring people to get covered or pay an IRS penalty as part of its tax overhaul at the end of the year.

The uninsured rate is still far below the peak of 18 percent that Gallup measured in the third quarter of 2013, or right before Obamacare’s exchanges launched and dozens of states vastly expanded their Medicaid rolls under the law.

Gallup’s trend line says the uninsured rate dropped significantly between 2014 and 2015 but flatlined heading into 2016, when Mr. Trump romped to victory on a promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Democrats blamed Mr. Trump for the recent uptick in uninsured, calling it “deeply disappointing” after years of coverage gains under their health care law.

“Over the past year, the Trump Administration has spitefully tried to undermine the Affordable Care Act by eviscerating funding for ACA open enrollment advertising, deliberately creating massive confusion around ACA enrollment availability and making constant threats to cut off key ACA payments,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. “Together, these efforts have pushed the number of uninsured Americans up for the first time in a decade.”

The Department of Health and Human Services said Democrats should look inward, saying premiums rose and insurers fled long before the current administration arrived.

“The fundamental failures of Obamacare have led to a broken status quo that is driving up the cost of insurance, driving down the number of choices available, and leaving millions of Americans behind,” HHS spokesman Ryan Murphy said. “This administration is focused on reforms that will help Americans gain access to quality, affordable healthcare and insurance coverage that meets their needs, not Washington dictates.”

Gallup said it expects the uninsured problem to worsen in the coming years.

Repeal of the individual mandate takes effect in 2019, meaning customers might not bother to sign up or retain coverage. Or they might balk at premium hikes that will flow from the policy decision, as insurers brace for an even sicker customer base.

“Young adults will be most likely to go without health coverage, meaning that they will no longer help offset the costs of older, less healthy adults — which will drive up premiums even more,” Gallup said.

Some analysts said the results should be taken with a grain of salt.

Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, pointed to government data that showed the ranks of uninsured rising at a slower pace, with 200,000 reporting a loss of coverage during the first half of 2017.

“It’s quite likely that actions by the Trump administration and Congress are increasing the number of people who are uninsured,” he said on Twitter. “But, I’d be cautious in interpreting Gallup’s latest survey results.”

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