The percentage of U.S. adults without health insurance rose in 2017 for the first time since former President Barack Obama's health care law took effect. The share of people without health insurance reached 12.2% at the end of the year, according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well Being Index. The 1.3-point increase in the uninsured rate, which represents about 3.2 million people, is the highest in one year since Gallup and Sharecare launched the index in 2008.
Gallup and Sharecare interviewed more than 25,000 adults from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 to conduct its survey. They found the uninsured rate is still below its peak of 18%. The index reached that high in 2013, just before the "Obamacare" health insurance exchanges launched. It was also before the individual mandate, a requirement that most people have health insurance or pay a fine, took effect.
What was behind the increase?
The Affordable Care Act was under siege for much of 2017. Congress tried repeatedly to repeal the health care law, while President Donald Trump made moves to undermine the marketplace by shortening the open enrollment and slashing its advertising budget.
Because of the uncertainty surrounding the law, many insurers stopped offering plans on the marketplace. Those that stayed in the marketplace often increased premiums, sometimes by a lot. While many people qualified for subsidies to help pay for health insurance, not everyone did, which may have led people to skip insurance, Gallup said in an analysis of its survey.
The uninsured rate may keep rising. Trump signed a tax law in December that gets rid of the individual mandate. Some people may decide to drop their coverage without the requirement.
Insurance premiums are also expected to keep rising, Gallup said. More Americans may get priced out of health insurance as a result. Plus, the people most likely to go without health insurance are young and healthy. Without them offsetting the costs of older, sicker people, premiums could rise even more.
How to (still) get coverage
That's a lot of bad news for anyone looking to buy health insurance. But skipping coverage could be even worse news. Health care can get really expensive, enough to wreck your finances, and there's no telling when you'll get sick or injured.
Don't let the gloomy headlines keep you from at least trying to buy health insurance if you need it. The federal deadline to buy insurance through Healthcare.gov has closed, but some states run their own exchanges with later signup deadlines. Check our state-by-state guide to open enrollment to see if you can still buy insurance where you live.
Depending on your income, you may qualify for government help paying for health insurance. While Obamacare premiums rose, many people ended up paying less for coverage because subsidies rose as well.
Missed the deadline? There are still ways to get covered. You may qualify for a special enrollment period if you recently experienced a major life event like getting married (yay), getting divorced (sorry) or having a baby (yay). Depending on where you live, you also might qualify for Medicaid, which you can qualify for at any time of the year.
If you can't get a proper health insurance plan, there are yet other ways to get health coverage, like short-term health insurance, limited benefit plans or health care sharing ministries. Check out our full guide to these health insurance alternatives.