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One More, Very Small Hint of Obamacare Progress

Getty Images: Joe Raedle

The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday released complete enrollment figures for January and, not surprisingly, they look a lot like the preliminary enrollment figures HHS released just before January ended. In all, 3.3 million people have now selected private insurance plans through either the federally or state-run Obamacare marketplaces. About 1.1 million of those signed up in January, which is actually a little more than the original, unofficial projections for January had predicted. (Sarah Kliff breaks down those numbers if you want them.)

Enrollment continues to lag behind those unofficial targets for the full year, which probably reflects the lingering effects of technical problems in October and November. Most experts, including analysts at the Congressional Budget Office, now expect that private plan enrollment will ultimately fall short of the 7 million experts had predicted to get insurance through the marketplaces in 2014. But if this pace continues enrollment should end up reasonably close to that target.

Here comes the now-familiar warning: don’t read too much into these numbers. We don’t know how many of these people have paid premiums. We don’t know how the demographics compare to what insurers had expected. And we don’t know how many of these people had insurance previously. Those are some pretty big unknowns.

But on that last point, at least, we have one more, very small hint that the law is making real progress. It comes from Gallup, which regularly polls on the question of whether people have insurance. According to its latest round of polling, which includes 19,000 survey responses between January 2 and February 2, the proportion of Americans without health insurance has fallen to 16 percent—lower than it was in the first quarter of 2013 and lower than its been anytime since Obama first took office. 

The data is too noisy and confusing for any firm conclusions. (That spike in early 2013 has no obvious explanation, for example, although maybe the real anomaly is that dip in late 2012.) But it's the only decent data of its kind we have right now and it is more consistent with a story of success than the story of failure conservatives keep telling. 

Update: I forgot to mention that the HHS numbers are entirely consistent with the estimates by Charles Gaba, who runs the website If this stuff interests you, make sure to check his site—and its frequent updates—regularly.