When employers laid off Americans by the millions during the Great Recession (PDF) of 2007-2009, people didn’t just lose their jobs. They lost their health insurance, too, and the number of uninsured swelled during those lean years.
Now it seems the Affordable Care Act has reversed that damage: The number of Americans who report being uninsured is at its lowest level since 2008, according to a new Gallup poll. About 15.6 percent of American adults lacked health insurance in the first quarter of 2014, down from a high of 18 percent last summer, according to Gallup.
Gallup detected an increase in insurance coverage among all ages, races, and income levels. The uninsured rate fell the most among households making less than $36,000 a year and among black households. (The poll of more than 45,000 U.S. adults has a margin of sampling error of +/- 1 percent.)
The millions of people who signed up through Obamacare exchanges, along with those enrolling in expanded state Medicaid programs, aren’t getting employer health plans, of course. In many cases, they’ll be paying higher premiums than workers on company plans do. Their policies may also come with greater cost-sharing—deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance that make patients shoulder more of the costs of the medical care they use.
It’s also not clear how many of the people who lost coverage during the financial slump got insurance through Obamacare. Some of them went on to get other jobs, some turned 65 and qualified for Medicare, and others probably still remain uninsured.
Yet, for five years after the financial crisis of 2008, the number of Americans without health insurance increased with little interruption. It was a dislocation that burdened millions of families, many of them already dealing with the shock of losing a job. And the last six months have gone a long way toward repairing some of that damage.