Obama Policy Credited For Decline in Uninsured; What Would Romney Do?

Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Five year-old Jesse Quesada Jr. receives a dental x-ray during the Remote Area Medical (RAM) free clinic in Oakland, California.

It’s difficult to spin today’s news on health insurance coverage as anything but a win for Barack Obama and his candidacy to keep the White House.

Last year, the nation enjoyed its largest reduction in the uninsured population since 1999, the Census Bureau said. And credit seems to be due in part to a provision of Obama’s health-care overhaul, the Affordable Care Act, that allows adults younger than 26 to stay on their parent’s insurance plans. The Census said that 540,000 people between age 19 and 25 gained coverage in 2011, the first full year the law was in effect — more than in any other age group.

Overall, the number of uninsured people in the country fell to 48.6 million, down 1.3 million from 2010. The White House gave itself a modest pat on the back for the decline in a blog post.

“The bottom line is the earliest indications of the effect of the Affordable Care Act are exceedingly positive,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Families USA and one of the law’s biggest boosters. “It just is a clear indication that we should move forward with the remainder of the Affordable Care Act and hopefully we’ll experience similar improvements for all age groups.”

That won’t happen, of course, if Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, boots Obama from office in November. He’s pledged to repeal the health law. He says he’d replace it with his own policies, some of which might resemble the law. Romney said on Sept. 9, for example, that he supports letting young adults stay on their parents plans and that people with pre-existing medical conditions shouldn’t be denied coverage, another major tenet of the ACA.

Trouble is, Romney hasn’t explained his health policies in any detail. A Sept. 10 Bloomberg Government study examining Romney’s health policies said that “they are often unclear and can be interpreted in various ways.” Some “are only sentence fragments,” the study said.

Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail asking for comment on today’s Census data.

Pollack, an Obama supporter, said the Census numbers would start to turn the other direction under a Romney administration.

“Governor Romney does not simply want to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “He wants to go backwards, in a way that undoubtedly would not just eliminate the gains that can be made and are being made through the Affordable Care Act.” By reducing funding for Medicaid, the state-run insurance program for the poor, Pollack argues, Romney would “substantially increase the number of people without health coverage.”

At least one Republican found a line of attack against Obama in the Census numbers. Chris Jacobs, a policy analyst for Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee, sent an e-mail to reporters and others noting that a lot of the gain in insurance was due to the growth of public programs like Medicaid, entitlements that Jacobs’ party has criticized for increasing Americans’ dependency on the government.

“If the Administration wants to claim that ObamaCare’s under-26 mandate helped reduce the number of uninsured, then it should similarly accept responsibility for the economic policies under which there are nearly 4 million more uninsured — and over 8 million more individuals on Medicaid — then when Barack Obama was elected,” he said.

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