It could be a long time before we know whether CBO was even close to the mark. | AP Photo

By DAVID NATHER | 2/23/14 10:59 PM EST

When you go to all this trouble to cover the uninsured, is it really that unreasonable to ask how many uninsured people Obamacare has covered so far?

The answer, apparently, is: Yes. It’s unreasonable.

Affordable Care Act has been in reducing the ranks of the uninsured. The Obama administration hasn’t been able to say how many of the 3.3 million people who have signed up for private health insurance coverage, or of the 6.3 million who have been determined eligible for Medicaid, were actually uninsured before — and health care experts aren’t sure yet, either.

There have been a couple of surveys, and at least one state — New York — has been keeping track of how many people were uninsured when they applied for coverage. But their answers are so wildly different that all we can say is, it’s either a tiny minority that were uninsured, or it’s most of them.

Want to narrow that down? You’ll just have to wait. We might have some better hints in April — but it could be next year before there are national numbers that everyone will accept.

The search for real, trustworthy numbers shows just how hard it is to track how many uninsured people are gaining health coverage in anything close to real time, and even harder to link those changes directly to the ACA. Unless you’ve got a reliable way of gathering that information when people sign up — which hasn’t been in place during the Obamacare enrollment season — you pretty much have to wait until a think tank does a national survey, or even until the census figures come out next year.

It all adds up to frustration for supporters, opponents and everyone else who’s trying to track the progress of Obamacare — because reducing the ranks of the uninsured was, well, kind of the point.

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