Don’t Expect Conservative Media to Cover This New Obamacare Poll

by Jonathan Cohn | March 10, 2014

The Gallup organization is out with yet another poll, looking at how many Americans have health insurance. And once again, the percentage without coverage has fallen. According to the survey, the percentage of uninsured Americans is down to 15.9 percent. That’s lower than its peak last year and lower than it was in March 2010, when the Affordable Care Act became law.

Percentage uninsured in the U.S., according to Gallup

So does this prove Obamacare is working? No. It's a sign of progress, but only a sign. Gallup is probably the best available source for real-time data on the uninsured rate. And the pattern Gallup detected—unusually large increases in coverage among African-Americans and Latinos—would be consistent with a program that benefits low-income groups the most. But Gallup's survey is not as reliable as the big government surveys on the uninsured, which won't be available until next year. In addition, the Gallup data for last year, 2013, shows a very strange pattern, with the uninsured rate spiking to 18 percent in the middle of the year for no apparent reason. That makes it hard to be certain exactly what's happening right now.

As Greg Sargent says, "caution is in order." Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, summed it up this way:

Gallup’s numbers are volatile and need to be interpreted cautiously. But, at the same time, there’s now mounting evidence with Medicaid and exchange signups that the number of Americans who are uninsured is dropping as the ACA has gone into effect.

Of course, not everybody reacts to news about the health care law so carefully. Over the last few weeks, Obamacare critics have made a great deal of noise about surveys that put Obamacare in a poor light—including a study from McKinsey showing that only a small portion of people getting insurance through the exchanges lacked coverage before. (Here's a dispatch from Fox News, just to take one example.)

That McKinsey survey could very well be right. There are lots of reasons to worry that the health care law won't meet expectations for expanding coverage, at least in the first year or two. The Washington Post had a story about that possibility just a few days ago. And, as conservative writer Sean Parnell notes, the two results may not even be inconsistent with one another. But there's no reason to put more stock in McKinsey's finding than in Gallup's. If anything, the McKinsey survey probably deserves less credence. (Charles Gaba, who has been following enrollment news obsessively at his website, ACASignups.net, offers some reasons why.)

So here's a question: Will the outlets that made such a big deal about the McKinsey study be citing Gallup’s result, too? Or will they pretend it simply doesn’t exist? 

Note: This item has been updated, in order to add more links.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//article/116951/gallups-new-obamacare-poll-shows-uninsured-decline