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 experts said the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act were partly to blame.
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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 people didn’t have health insurance at any point last year, an increase of roughly 2 million people from 2017.
The number of people with health insurance declined even while the economy strengthened last year. The poverty rate fell .5 percentage points to 11.8 percent, the lowest rate since 2001. Middle-class income also hit an all-time high last year.
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 focuses on paring back the law’s insurance markets and shrink enrollment in safety net programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Obamacare supporters said the Census numbers were evidence that the Trump administration’s health agenda is harming Americans.
“The more Republicans continue to double down on their war on health care, the more we will see further drops in coverage and increased anxiety from Americans over the future of their health care,” said Leslie Dach with advocacy group Protect Our Care.
Trump’s crackdown on immigration also appears to have had an effect. Larger increases in the uninsured rate were seen among Latinos compared to other ethnic groups, as the administration has sought to reduce legal immigration from people receiving public benefits such as Medicaid. Advocates and insurance experts have long warned that the administration’s immigration agenda would drive people to drop coverage.
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, noting that health coverage rates can change due to a variety of factors.
However, despite the strong economy, the percentage of people with private health coverage did not change materially, the Census Bureau reported.
The Trump administration has taken numerous steps to pare back Obamacare coverage. It has issued rules encouraging people to sign up in cheaper health plans that often don’t meet Obamacare standards, including protections for preexisting conditions. Trump’s health department has also approved the first-ever 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.
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.