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U.S. Census Finds 16.3% of Americans Uninsured

Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media, September 14, 2011

Statistics released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau present an unsettling picture of health insurance coverage in the United States.

In 2010, 49.9 million Americans or 16.3% of the total population was uninsured. That's only a slight increase from 2009 when 49 million people or 16.1% were uninsured, according to the report on Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010.

But the increase in the number of uninsured reflects a continued decline in the availability of employer-sponsored health insurance, explained Elise Gould, director of health policy research for the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based non-partisan research institute.

Long the mainstay of health insurance benefits, with only one or two exceptions, the percentage of employment-based coverage has dropped each year since 2000, from 64% to 55.3% in 2010.

While Gould cited rising healthcare costs, unemployment, and economic conditions among the reasons for the decline in employer-sponsored healthcare, she also noted that with high unemployment rates,  employers might no longer feel the need to offer cost-effective healthcare benefits to attract or retain employees.

The decline in employer-based healthcare benefits was felt across all groups with those under 18 years of age and between ages 25 and 34 feeling the biggest impact. The percent of children with employer-sponsored healthcare dropped from 66.7% to 59.8% from 2009 to 2010 while it declined from 69.1% to 55.8% for the 25 to 34 year olds, according to an analysis by Gould.

Gould said the uninsured rate might be higher but for government coverage (Medicaid, Medicare, TRICARE and Children's Health Care Program), which has picked up some of the slack. The percent of people covered by government health insurance has steadily increased from 24% in 2000 to 31% in 2010.

According to Census Bureau figures, Medicare and Medicare enrolled a record number of beneficiaries in 2010, 48.6 million and 44.3 million, respectively.