The U.S. uninsured rate dropped during the Covid pandemic as Medicaid and Obamacare coverage increased

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The number of people in the US without health insurance fell during the Covid-19 pandemic, as millions of people lost their coverage through their employers due to layoffs.

The uninsured rate in the U.S. for people under age 65 has fallen from 11% in 2019 to 10.5% in 2021, according to a report released Friday by the Health and Human Services Department.

By the first quarter of 2022, the uninsured rate had fallen to an all-time low of 8%, according to the report. It then rose slightly to 8.6% in the second quarter of 2022, HHS said.

The uninsured rate fell despite a massive spike in unemployment in early 2020, which caused an estimated 1.6 million to 3.3 million people to lose coverage through their employers, according to HHS.

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But pandemic health policies created a safety net for people who lost private coverage and made it easier for them to find insurance.

Congress effectively banned states from kicking people off Medicaid during the public health emergency in exchange for more funding for the states. Medicaid enrollments increased by more than 20 million from February 2020 to September 2022 as a result.

But this Medicaid protection is about to expire. Millions of people are expected to lose the coverage they acquired through the program. Federal spending legislation passed by Congress in December allows states to kick people off Medicaid in April if they no longer meet eligibility requirements.

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HHS has estimated that up to 15 million people could lose Medicaid if pandemic-era protections are phased out and the program returns to normal operation. Many of these people are expected to transition to coverage from the Obamacare marketplace.

Enrollment for Obamacare through the marketplaces has also increased during the pandemic, according to HHS, due to a special enrollment period in 2021, expanded tax credits and increased funding for outreach to those who qualify.

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Nearly 16 million people have signed up during the current enrollment period, up 13% from last year. Three million of them are covered for the first time through the marketplace. The current open enrollment period ends on Sunday.

The HHS estimates for the uninsured from 2019 through 2021 are based on data from the American Community Survey, which collects information from 3.5 million households in the US. The 2022 estimates come from the National Health Interview Survey, which uses a much smaller sample size of more than 17,000 people.