For first time in years, health coverage gains have flatlined

Health insurance, pen and stethoscope
The rate of uninsured individuals was 9% in 2016, staying essentially flat compared to 2015, according to the CDC. (Getty/Minerva Studio)

Though the country has made considerable progress toward increasing health insurance coverage rates—thanks in large part to the Affordable Care Act—those gains ground to a halt last year.

The number of uninsured individuals in 2016, 28.6 million, did not change at all compared to 2015, according to a new report (PDF) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2010, the number of uninsured individuals has dropped by 20 million, thanks to five straight years of coverage gains.

The rate of uninsured individuals was 9% in 2016, staying essentially flat compared to 9.1% in 2015—the first time the rate dipped into single digits.

To the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Katherine Hempstead, the good news is that the gains made in coverage under the ACA are holding steady, according to the Associated Press. But to continue chipping away at the number of uninsured, more states would have to embrace Medicaid expansion or more people would have to seek plans on the individual markets, she noted.

Both are likely to be challenging, as a bill that recently passed the House would phase out Medicaid expansion and make various policy changes to the individual markets. A Congressional Budget Office score that assessed the original version of the bill estimated it would reduce the number of uninsured by 24 million as of 2026—essentially negating the gain of 20 million made since 2010, and then some.

RELATED: HHS touts 'historic' gain of 20M covered through Affordable Care Act

A score on the revised version of the House bill is expected next week. However, the legislation is likely to see major changes in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the number of people who enrolled in health plans through the ACA exchanges dropped slightly between 2016 and 2017, from 12.7 million to 12.2 million. That number had increased every year since 2014, when public exchanges debuted.

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