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MONDAY, March 16, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- The Obama Administration reported Monday the largest drop in the number of Americans without health insurance since the Johnson administration expanded health coverage through Medicare and Medicaid 50 years ago.
The new report tracks gains in health coverage since the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama's signature health reform law, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary on March 23.
About 16.4 million people have picked up coverage since the ACA's coverage provisions began taking effect in October 2010, according to federal data released Monday.
That figure includes 14.1 million adults who gained coverage from the beginning of the ACA open enrollment period in October 2013 through March 4, 2015.
The proportion of uninsured Americans dropped by an estimated 7.1 percentage points -- from 20.3 percent before the initial kick-off of open enrollment under the ACA to 13.2 percent in the first quarter of 2015.
"That's quite simply an historic reduction in the uninsured," Dr. Meena Seshamani, director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Health Reform, said during a news briefing.
The report does not track how the uninsured gained coverage. So, it's not clear if the coverage came from ACA marketplaces, through individual health insurance outside of the marketplaces, through employer coverage or through Medicaid, Seshamani said.
Coverage gains occurred across all racial and ethnic groups, with blacks and Latinos posting greater gains than whites.
Coverage gains were particularly strong in states that expanded Medicaid -- a provision of the ACA that became optional in the wake of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Medicaid is a government-run insurance program for lower-income people.
The 16.4 million people who gained coverage included 2.3 million young people who benefited from an ACA provision that allows children under age 26 to remain on a parent's health insurance plan.
The report does not reflect the number of children who gained coverage since the ACA's enactment.
Federal health officials did not comment directly on whether the rate of uninsured people would continue to drop or level off over time.
"I think it's important to recognize that we're in entirely new territory here," Richard Frank, HHS assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, said during the news conference.
"We're just really starting to understand more completely who we've really brought in, and also who is left uncovered," he said.
The Affordable Care Act is considered the centerpiece legislation of the Obama White House. While popular with Democrats, it is unpopular with Republican lawmakers, who have vowed to try to repeal it.
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SOURCES: March 16, 2015, news briefing with Meena Seshamani, M.D., Ph.D., director, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Health Reform, and Richard Frank, Ph.D., assistant secretary, planning and evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services