Census: Economic ills led to increase in people without health insurance

The number of Americans without health insurance grew to 49.9 million last year — an increase of 900,000 over 2009 — even as more people relied on the government for their healthcare coverage, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.

Because of population growth, the percentage of people without insurance stayed relatively flat — 16.3 percent in 2010 versus 16.1 percent in 2009. But new data confirm a continuing shift from employer-sponsored to government-provided healthcare coverage as the economy continues to falter.

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Between 2009 and 2010, the new data show, the percentage of people covered by private health insurance declined from 64.5 percent to 64.0 percent while the percentage covered by government health insurance increased from 30.6 percent to 31.0 percent. The percentage covered by employer-based health insurance saw an even steeper decline, from 56.1 percent to 55.3 percent.

The new data immediately sparked partisan squabbling in Washington.

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The Republican Policy Committee claimed before the new data were even published that any increase in the number of uninsured was further evidence that President Obamas 2009 stimulus didnt work.

The Obama administration for its part pointed to a significant increase in the number of insured young people as evidence that last years healthcare reform law is working. The number of insured 18-to-24-year-olds increased from 70.7 percent to 72.8 percent, which the administration attributes to the laws requirement that healthcare plans allow young people to stay on their parents coverage until age 26, provided they are unable to get employer-based coverage.

Young people sometimes think theyre invincible, but its important for everyone to have insurance, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote on the healthcare.gov blogOne car accident, one slip in a shower, or one sudden illness can result in months or even years of health care bills that can bankrupt the average family if that son or daughter is uninsured.

A Census official briefing reporters said the law change could be a factor in the higher insured rate for young people.