Is Obamacare Working? Health Care Spending Reaches All-Time High, But Number Of Uninsured Drops Sharply

Obamacare helped push U.S. healthcare spending to an all-time high, but amid criticism and plans to dismantle the comprehensive health insurance reform, the signature of Barack Obama’s tenure is putting millions of people back onto the health insurance rolls.

Health care spending grew by 5.3 percent in 2014, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services found, the largest single-year growth in five years. This reached an all-time high of $3 trillion, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The news comes amid new efforts to defund Obamacare. On Friday, the Senate voted to repeal the health care reform, a measure that is certain to be vetoed.

Though largely a symbolic gesture, the vote sets the stage for a 2016 election when Barack Obama’s signature program is assured to come under fire from Republicans.

It also showed that Obamacare could eventually be repealed.

“It demonstrates that if you have a president prepared to support health care reform, it could pass next time,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican (via CNN). “If this vote occurred after the next presidential election, instead of vetoing it the President would sign it. This would force a bipartisan reevaluation of health care in America and put us in a position to make major changes.”

Republicans were able to pass the reform by using a measure known as “budget reconciliation” that allowed Republicans to push it through with just 51 votes rather than the 60 normally needed for such a significant bill.

While a past series of votes had been empty measures, Republicans now appear closer to offering a real alternative to Obamacare. House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered his vision for the future, saying that in the next year Republicans plan to unveil a plan to “replace every word of Obamacare.”

But MSNBC‘s Steve Bennen noted that Republicans have been promising their own plan since 2009, when Obamacare was first passed. Bennen said it has even become a running joke in Democratic circles that Republicans are often vowing to release their own version of comprehensive health care reform, but have yet to do so.

That could likely change in the coming months as the Republican and Democratic primaries wind down and the next general election nears, with Republicans seeing their first real opportunity to promote a plan that cannot be vetoed by Obama.

But amid the criticisms, Obamacare has brought successes as well. As the CMS report noted, it led to four years of lower-than-average growth before this year, and much of the growth this year came through an influx of close to 17 million people who were previously not insured.

“The Affordable Care Act has greatly expanded health insurance coverage, but it has caused little change in the way most previously covered Americans are getting health insurance coverage,” said Katherine Carman, an economist at RAND who led the study team, after a report released in May.

“The law has expanded coverage to more Americans using all parts of the health insurance system.”

Many different groups have declared Obamacare to be a success. Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist to Vice President Biden, is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote that Obamacare has achieved its primary goal of reducing the number of uninsured.

These successes could also make Obamacare more difficult to repeal — unless those also include a plan to keep those newly covered from losing what insurance they now have.

[Photo by AP Photo/Scott Sonner]