Skeptical of the government's Obamacare data on enrollments? Here's another source: The number of people without health insurance coverage will likely decline enough this quarter to be at the lowest level since before the recession, according to Gallup.
According to the polling firm, the number of uninsured dropped from 18 percent of the U.S. population in the third quarter of 2013 to 16 percent so far during the first quarter of 2014 — a quarter which has not yet ended. That's down 1.1 percent from the last quarter of last year, thanks largely to a big drop in the number of uninsured in the 26-to-34-year-old age range — the group that is the least likely to be covered and the group that will likely offer the best return on insurance policies given their relative health. (The age range most likely to be covered? Those over 65 who are eligible for Medicare.)
The change appears to be due to an increase in the number of people who have insurance thanks to Medicaid or under policies that they pay for themselves — precisely the two mechanisms under which Obamacare is meant to work. The graph at right shows the change in the percentage of the source of insurance for insured people between last quarter and this quarter. The big drop in employer-based coverage is, in part, a reflection of the fact that more people are now covered with insurance policies, making employer-based coverage a smaller percentage of the total coverage picture. The big increase in Medicaid is certainly thanks to continued enrollment under the program in states that adopted the Affordable Care Act's expansion provisions.
This shouldn't be a surprise. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that enrollments in private policies under the Obamacare exchanges had topped 3 million, a little less than 1 percent of the population of the country.
In order to avoid the individual mandate penalty for not being covered, Americans need to have insurance for at least nine months of the year, making April 1 the last date before which people who haven't been covered need to be enrolled. As that date approaches, it's safe to assume that coverage will continue to grow, perhaps approaching the 6 million-person goal the government set for the date. If that happens, the first quarter uninsured percentage estimated by Gallup will only continue to drop.