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March 10, 2014

In what is likely a sign that ObamaCare is extending health insurance to more Americans as intended, the uninsured rate fell markedly to start the year, according to Gallup data released Monday. In a little more than six months, the percentage of Americans without insurance has fallen to 15.9, down from the record high of 18 percent Gallup recorded last year.

More from Gallup:

The uninsured rate for almost every major demographic group has dropped in 2014 so far. The percentage of uninsured Americans with an annual household income of less than $36,000 has dropped the most — by 2.8 percentage points — to 27.9 percent since the fourth quarter of 2013, while the percentage of uninsured blacks has fallen 2.6 points to 18.3 percent. Hispanics remain the subgroup most likely to lack health insurance, with an uninsured rate of 37.9 percent. [Gallup]

In other words, demographics with some of the highest uninsured rates — the very demographics ObamaCare is intended to benefit most — are seeing significant improvements in their rates of coverage.

Now, it's still too early to peg all of the drop on the health care law. But the clear trend over the past few months strongly points to the fact that ObamaCare is indeed reducing the number of people without coverage. A continuation of that trend will only make the link that much stronger. And that's why Democrats aren't, despite what Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) may say, in any rush to abandon the law: As it begins to take hold, and more people get covered, support for the law could well become an asset for Democrats. Jon Terbush

5:04 p.m. ET

Senate Republicans narrowly approved a motion to proceed to debate on health-care legislation Tuesday. The motion passed 51-50, with Vice President Mike Pence stepping in to break the tie after Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) joined all 48 members of the Democratic caucus in voting no.

While the vote was taking place, President Trump was at the White House meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. By the time Trump emerged for his joint press conference with Hariri at the Rose Garden, Pence had already cast the tie-breaking vote. When asked about the razor-thin margin, Trump said Collins and Murkowski's votes were "very sad — for them":

The Senate will now move on to 20 hours of debate on several Republican proposals, including the Senate's Better Care bill and a plan favored by conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would constitute a straight repeal of ObamaCare. A "skinny repeal" plan, which was introduced just hours before Tuesday's vote and would center around eliminating ObamaCare's individual mandate, employer mandate, and select taxes, could also come into play.

No single proposal is thought to have the 50 votes necessary to pass. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) returned to Washington on Tuesday afternoon for the first time since being diagnosed with cancer to cast a crucial vote in favor of the motion to proceed, but he may leave the capital by the end of the week. Perhaps not coincidentally, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) told reporters that party leadership informed him the goal is to pass a health-care plan by Friday — especially wise, given Trump's baiting of Collins and Murkowski may not be effective in spurring them to support the president's agenda. Kimberly Alters

3:42 p.m. ET

On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) returned to the Senate floor for the first time since he was diagnosed with brain cancer, and he was greeted by a bipartisan standing ovation. McCain came back to Washington just in time to to cast his yes vote on Senate Republicans' motion to proceed on debating the House-passed health-care bill.

Though Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided on the health-care issue — no Democrats voted in favor of the motion to proceed, while all but two Republicans supported it — Politico's Dan Diamond reported that a "parade" of Democrats went over to hug McCain.

After the voting wrapped up and the motion to proceed passed, however, McCain took the floor for a general speech that betrayed his simple "aye" vote on the bill. Though McCain voted in favor of the motion to proceed, he made clear that he would "not vote for the bill as it is today." "It's a shell of a bill right now, we all know that," McCain said, adding that it "seems likely" that "this process ends in failure." He scolded his party for "getting nothing done" because "we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle."

McCain's critical speech also extended to President Trump. "Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the president's subordinates," McCain said. "We are his equal." Catch a snippet of McCain's speech below, and read it in full here. Becca Stanek

3:09 p.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Senate voted in favor of a motion to proceed to debating the House-passed health-care bill. The motion passed 50-50, with Vice President Mike Pence stepping in to break the tie.

Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) were the only Republicans to vote against the measure. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is battling brain cancer, returned to Washington to cast his yes vote amid a round of applause. No Democrats voted in favor.

Lawmakers will now move to voting on the Senate's Better Care bill, along with a straight repeal bill favored by conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). A "skinny repeal" plan, which was introduced just hours before Tuesday's vote and would center around eliminating ObamaCare's individual mandate, the employer mandate, and a few of the health-care law's taxes, would come into play as a third option. Becca Stanek

2:48 p.m. ET

Protesters' shouts cut through the quiet of the Senate floor Tuesday as lawmakers convened to vote on a motion to proceed to debating the House-passed health-care bill. "Kill the bill! Don't kill us!" protesters chanted as senators began to cast their votes.

The gavel was pounded in an attempt to restore order. "Shame! Shame!" the protesters carried on.

If the motion to proceed passes, the Senate will move on to voting on Senate Republicans' Better Care bill, along with a straight repeal bill. A third option would be the "skinny repeal" plan, a pared-down ObamaCare repeal focused specifically on eliminating the individual mandate. Becca Stanek

2:37 p.m. ET

As the Senate convened Tuesday to vote on a motion to proceed to debating the House-passed health-care bill, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) fired off a caustic criticism of Senate Republicans' hasty and secretive process. As Sanders underscored in a retweet of Vox's Dylan Scott, the vote Tuesday happened in spite of the fact there was "no final text," " no final CBO score," and "no public hearings."

Sanders deemed the process not just "insulting" — but "undemocratic":

Just as the vote began Tuesday, several uncertain Republican senators came out in support of the motion to proceed. Becca Stanek

1:48 p.m. ET
iStock

Of the 111 brains of deceased NFL players examined in a study published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, all but one of the brains showed signs of the neurodegenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The disease, found in 110 of 111 NFL players' brains donated for scientific research, is "linked to repeated blows to the head," The New York Times reported. Symptoms of CTE, which can only be diagnosed with an autopsy, include memory loss, confusion, and depression.

The players whose brains were examined spanned every position, from quarterbacks to running backs to linemen. Some players, such as Hall of Famer Ken Stabler, were particularly famous, while others were lesser known. In addition, high school and college players' brains were examined; CTE was found in three of 14 high school players' brains and 48 of 53 college players'.

Neuropathologist Ann McKee warned that there's "a tremendous selection bias" in the study's sampling of brains because the families that donated the brains oftentimes did so because they suspected symptoms of CTE. However, McKee noted the "fact that we were able to gather this many cases" in just the past eight years suggests the disease is "much more common than we previously realized."

McKee acknowledged that it's still not clear "what the incidence is in the general population or in the general population of football players," but she said one thing is clear: "It is no longer debatable whether or not there is a problem in football — there is a problem." Becca Stanek

12:15 p.m. ET

A hot mic captured Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and an unidentified male senator talking smack about Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) as a subcommittee hearing wrapped up Tuesday. In an interview last week with a local Texas radio station, Farenthold blamed female GOP senators like Collins for the health-care impasse and suggested he'd "settle this Aaron Burr-style" if they were men.

"Did you see the one who challenged me to a duel?" Collins says. "You could beat the sh-- out of him," the man responds.

At another point, Collins calls Farenthold "huge " and "so unattractive, it's unbelievable." She also mentions an old photo of Farenthold wearing rubber duckie pajamas and standing next to a woman in lingerie. "Did you see the picture of him in the pajamas?" she says.

Listen below. Becca Stanek

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