More Good News: Obamacare Has Not Overwhelmed the Health Care System


Obamacare has provided health insurance to millions of people who previously lacked it. And yet, doctors’ offices aren’t jammed, as some people feared. Sarah Kliff takes a look at why this is, and I think this is the key point:

Federal data released earlier this month shows that the uninsured rate has fallen 35 percent since the coverage expansion began in 2014….In that way, the health law’s insurance expansion was big. But put another way, it’s also small: 14 million people gaining coverage in a country of more than 300 million residents is kind of a drop in the bucket. We’re talking about 4 percent of the country going from uninsured to covered.

And it’s not just that. Of that 4 percent, a lot of them were healthy people who simply didn’t have much need for medical attention but were forced by the Obamacare mandate to purchase insurance anyway. So they got insurance, but since they were healthy, they still didn’t go in to see their new doctors much. In reality, I suspect that the number of new patients with real medical needs probably amounted to 2-3 percent of the population. That’s an extra burden on the health system, but not a huge one.

Medicare turned out to be similar when it began in 1965. As Kliff says, “In practice, these programs are relatively small: each only insured a small chunk of the population. Even though they’re remaking American health care, they’re doing so in a small, slow progression. That helps explain why none of these coverage expansions have overwhelmed doctors, despite our expectations.”