Last minute Obamacare signup, Miami, March 31 / Getty Images
About 9.3 million more Americans had health insurance in late March 2014 than in September 2013, according to a survey released Tuesday by the RAND Corporation, the respected centrist think tank. Nearly all the new enrollments are a direct result of Obamacare. As a result, the percentage of Americans without coverage dropped from 20.5% to 15.8%.
The figure of 9.3 million is a net total, after subtracting the 5.2 million people who lost coverage during that period. (That is, 14.5 million people gained coverage, but 5.2 million lost it, for a net gain of 9.3 million.) Less than 1 million people who had individual policies before September are now uninsured.
At the same time, the total doesn’t include the last-minute surge of 3.2 million signups through government marketplaces at the end of March and beginning of April, since the survey was completed on March 28, before the surge began. The net total of surge signups that resulted in completed enrollment is still unknown.
The most surprising finding in the study is that most of the new coverage doesn’t come from Obamacare’s signature marketplaces, but from people gaining coverage at their workplace. Of the 14.5 million who gained coverage, some 7.2 million people gained it through employer-sponsored insurance; 3.6 million through Medicaid expansion; 1.4 million through Obamacare marketplaces, and 1.8 million through unspecified “other” sources.
RAND doesn’t know why so many people gained new workplace coverage, but speculates that some “may have taken up an employer plan as a result of the incentive created by the individual mandate” – that is, decided to buy into the employer’s plan once they faced a possible fine for being uninsured – and some may have found a job.
BusinessInsider.com suggests a third possibility: that some employers have begun offering health insurance, even though the employer mandate hasn’t yet kicked in.
“Either way,” writes Ezra Klein at Vox.com,
predictions that Obamacare would lead to employers throwing people off insurance are, at this point, proving completely wrong.
Conservatives looking at the RAND study have come up with a variety of arguments why the survey is either wrong or proves that Obamacare is failing. Weekly Standard blogger John McCormack picks up on the fact that of the 3.9 million who had enrolled via the marketplace exchanges as of March 28, only 36% were previously uninsured. The Daily Caller tries to pick apart the survey’s numbers, and also asks “whether Medicaid expansion is an Obamacare success or simply more tax dollars sucked into the maw of government entitlements.” (You could rephrase that as “more tax dollars going to help people in need,” but that would presuppose that you had a conscience.)
Finally, the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto tries in his April 9 “Best of the Web” column to throw every possible argument he can find to debunk the RAND study, and where he can’t he dumps on those who were pleased by it, beginning with Ezra Klein and L.A. Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).