Fuzzy math on the ObamaCare uninsured rate

by Russell's Rants

Originally published on August 16, 2015


Republican talking points on the plummeting rate of those Americans lacking insurance are off, by a large factor. Since the passage of ObamaCare, Republicans have claimed everything from it having no or little impact on the rate of the uninsured — to the heath care law actually increasing those without insurance. Earlier this week on Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) released its annual National Health Interview Survey, with key findings including:

  • The overall uninsured rate has dropped into the single digits – to 9.2% – for the first time, ever;
  • Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2013, over 16 million Americans have gained health insurance; and
  • The decrease in the uninsured rate is greatest in those states that expanded Medicaid coverage (down 8%) compared with those that did not (down only 6%)

Republicans, however, seem not to have gotten the memo. When former Republican Senator Judd Gregg appeared on Chris Hayes’ show, All In, in June, he and the host had a not-so-civil disagreement on the amount by which those lacking insurance had decreased. Hayes took exception to Senator Gregg’s assertion that under ObamaCare, “uninsured folks didn`t get picked up in any significant numbers.”

Hayes pressed the senator on polling data (from Gallup, not Pew as Hayes initially recalled) showing that the uninsured rate for those ages 18 and older had dropped by over 6% (from 18% in the third quarter of 2013 just before the ACA’s individual mandate and Medicaid expansion kicked in – to 11.9% in the first quarter of 2015). (For those of all ages, the drop in uninsured was 5.2% according to the CDC.)

Undeterred, Gregg gave a seemingly authoritative statistic, asserting without attribution that the total number of uninsured had only decreased by 4 million total individuals (from 44 to 40 million). Gregg blithely stated that his numbers were roughly in line with the percentage drop cited by Hayes in the polling. He snidely told Hayes,

“I wish you would get your numbers right. Your numbers [and your ability to understand them] are worse than Obama`s.”


The problem, of course, for Gregg’s math is that he was calculating a percentage drop only among those who were originally uninsured – whereas the Gallup (and also CDC) percentages were based upon the population as a whole. So in real numbers, with a population of between 315 and 320 million between 2013 and 2015, the uninsured of all ages dropped from more than 45 million in 2013 to under 30 million in the first quarter of 2015 – that is to say, more than 5% of the population as a whole or 16 million people.

Senator Gregg is not alone among Republicans arguing that the ACA has netted few newly insured individuals. A current Republican House member recently gave a press interview, saying, “I’m not sure that’s true that more people are covered [under ObamaCare].”

Naturally, the Senator from the Tea Party, Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, went furthest, fatuously claiming that the Affordable Care Act “has caused millions of people to lose their insurance.” Curiously, one day following Cruz’s slander against the ACA, he personally signed up his family for coverage under it. We call that chutzpah!

But what really takes chutzpah is for Senator Gregg to claim that only 4 million individuals newly gained insurance under the ACA – when the real number is 16 million, meaning he was off by 400%.

British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is said to have famously remarked, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Senator Gregg’s “statistics” would, at best, appear to be fuzzy math, and, at worst, to qualify for one of Disraeli’s other categories.