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17-09-2012 | Article

Uninsured rates decline as young US adults stay enrolled


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medwireNews: The number of people without health insurance in the USA has declined for the first time since 2007, according to a US Census Bureau report.

The percentage of US residents without health insurance decreased from 16.3% in 2010 to 15.7% in 2011. In actual numbers, that translates into a decline from 50.0 million uninsured in 2010, to 48.6 million in 2011, report Carmen DeNavas-Walt and Census Bureau colleagues.

For the first time in a decade, there were no statistically significant declines in either the percentage or number of people covered by private health insurance. There was also a slight increase in the percentage of people insured by government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid (from 31.2% to 32.2%).

Census Bureau officials say that both the increased enrollment in government insurance programs and a marked increase in insurance rates among young adults (ages 19 to 25 years) appear to account for the overall increase in insurance rates. Among 19-25 year-olds, 29.8% were uninsured in 2010, compared with 27.7% in 2011.

In September 2010, the first provision of the Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in March of that year, went into effect. It allowed parents to keep adult children on their family health insurance plans until age 26 years. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) approximately 3 million young adults were able to stay insured or gain insurance because of the Act.

David Johnson from the Housing and Household Economic Statistic Division of the Census Bureau noted that approximately 40% of the overall decline in the uninsured rate found in the current report was among young adults. The Census Bureau did not, however, directly measure the effects of the new healthcare law provision.

Not surprisingly, the percentage of uninsured people decreased in inverse proportion to household income, ranging from 25.4% of people living in households with annual incomes of less than $ 25,000, to 7.8% of those in households with incomes of $ 75,000 or higher, DeNavas-Walt and colleagues report.

The insurance statistics are part of a larger report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the USA in 2011. The authors note that the decline in uninsured households came at a time when there was a decrease in real median household incomes, but no change in the poverty rate.

By Neil Osterweil, medwireNews reporter