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US Census Shows Little Change in Number of Uninsured Americans

Posted on Sep 16, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()

New Statistics released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that health insurance has remained stagnant in the United States, with citizens failing to increase their coverage due to more pressing economic concerns. According to the report, titled Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010, 49.9 million Americans or 16.3 percent of the total US population had no health insurance in 2010. That percentage represents a slight increase on 2009's figures, when 49 million citizens or 16.1 percent of the population was uninsured. The Census report noted that their 2010 data represents the first full year after the recession that officially ended in June 2009, and could thus be compared to similar periods after the end of other recessions in the past. The report noted that the year following the most recent recession showed no major difference in the uninsured rate, while in the years following the recessions that ended in 1991 and 2001, the uninsured rate in the US increased more substantially. While there was no significant shift in numbers this year, the percentage of Americans covered by private health insurance policies has continued along its decade long decline. The Census data showed that the rate of private coverage decreased from 64.5 percent in 2009 to 64 percent in 2010. The number of people covered by private health insurance in the United States stands at 195.9 million people, still the largest insurance market in the world but the rate of private coverage has been decreasing since 2001. The increased number of uninsured Americans has been largely attributed to the continued decline in the availability of employer-sponsored health insurance. Private sector employers have long been the bedrock provider of health insurance benefits for working Americans and their families. Although the US population has grown from 279.5 million to 306.1 million in the past decade, the percentage of employment-based healthcare coverage has decreased every year since 2000, from 64 percent and 179.9 million people, down to 55.3 percent covering 169.3 million people in 2010. The proportion of job-related coverage available in the US has been dropping due to rising insurance premiums, unemployment and adverse economic conditions. Employers have also attempted to shift rising healthcare costs to workers, making insurance less affordable. Furthermore, in a recession with high unemployment rates, many employers find themselves in a position where they no longer need to provide cost-effective health benefits to attract or retain employees. According to the census data, around 14.3 million or 15 percent of all full-time employees were uninsured. Of those Americans not working, 28.5 percent were without healthcare coverage in 2010, roughly the same percentage as 13.7 million part-time workers in the country. The number of uninsured may in fact have been greater had it not been for the increased presence of US government insurance programs (including Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE and Children's Health Care Program), which have mitigated the coverage shortfall considerably. According to the Census report, the number of Americans covered by government health insurance programs increased to 95 million people in 2010, up from 93.2 million in 2009. The percentage of people covered by these programs has now increased for the fourth consecutive year, rising to 31 percent in 2010 from 30.6 percent in 2009. Last year Medicare and Medicare enrolled a record number of beneficiaries, with 48.6 million and 44.3 million incoming people, respectively. These state coverage programs are set to expand further through upcoming healthcare reforms but it is yet to be determined whether or not they can handle the influx of people who now lack employer-based coverage. According to the Census data, the rate of health insurance coverage in the US remains divided by ethnicity, geography and income. Nationwide statistics remained relatively unchanged this year with 30.7 percent of all Hispanics uninsured, followed by 20.8 percent of blacks, 18.1 percent of Asians and 11.7 percent of whites. The South continued to lead all regions with 19.1 percent of its resident population lacking health insurance. Those with household incomes below US$25,000 accounted for the highest rate of uninsured, at 27 percent, while households earning over US$75,000 annually comprised only 8 percent. Why these relatively wealthy 8 percent have not purchased health insurance is not answered. The Census Bureau did note one demographic that managed a notable increase in cover over the past year and that is young people. The number of uninsured among 18 to 24 year olds, commonly the least likely to be employed and have coverage, declined by 2 percent from 2009 to 2010. The US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius attributed this promising statistic to one aspect of the federal Affordable Care Act that had already been put into place. Starting last year, dependents could stay covered under their parent's health insurance plan until they were 26 years old, which has enabled graduates encountering a difficult job market to maintain some valuable security. "The report showed that the percentage of young adults with insurance increased from 70.7 percent in 2009 to 72.8 percent in 2010. That translates into 500,000 more young people with insurance. We expect even more will gain coverage in 2011 when the policy is fully phased in," Sebelius noted on the department blog. It remains unclear how the remaining provisions in the Obama Administration's Affordable Care Act will impact these coverage stats, with many important facets still being debated on a political level and in the courts. Under the Affordable Care Act nearly all American citizens would have to carry health insurance in 2014 or else face a fine. The federal law will require that the general public have insurance policies which meet certain minimum benchmarks, more sufficient than basic catastrophic coverage and preventive services. This individual mandate is currently facing legal challenges in 26 states which contend that the United States government cannot compel its citizens to engage in such commerce. Two federal courts have already ruled that the mandate violates the Constitution, and the US Supreme Court is ultimately expected to decide upon the contentious issue soon. As we get closer to the inception date for these important healthcare policies, expect the annual Census reports to reveal more telling data that determines whether in fact such reforms will work for the average American.
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