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It's been 33 years since America's uninsured problem was this small

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Earlier this month, the government reported something incredible: Just 9.2 percent of Americans lack health insurance.

Why such big news? As I flagged at Forbes, it was the first time ever that a major survey found more than 90 percent of Americans had health coverage.

Percentages don't always convey the real-world impact of massive policy changes, though. So I graphed out the past 25 years of insurance coverage trends, which show America's steadily mounting uninsured problem — and Obamacare's amazing effect on reducing it.


(Dan Diamond)

Nearly 50 million Americans were uninsured in 2010, as the effects of the nation's economic crisis hit their peak. Even in 2013, almost 45 million Americans didn't have coverage.

But just 29 million Americans were uninsured as of March 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health Interview Survey.

The biggest drop in the uninsured rate in 50 years

There's never been a decline in the uninsured like this, save the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid 50 years ago. And the last time there were only 29 million uninsured Americans was back in 1982 — when the nation's population was about 30 percent smaller.

At this point, it's clear that the Affordable Care Act's strategy to expand coverage, mostly through the Medicaid expansion and the launch of new insurance exchanges, has been a major success.

There are some important caveats, however. Getting "coverage" doesn't always translate to "access." Millions of newly Americans are still dealing with major out-of-pocket spending on health care.

And as the CDC acknowledges, the survey's methodology has repeatedly changed since it was introduced in 1957, partly because our health insurance system has evolved.

But the National Health Interview Survey has been continually conducted for more than 50 years, and it's arguably the most consistent (and reliable) metric to gauge insurance levels over that time. And surveyors have never found that this few Americans, as a portion of the population, have been uninsured.