Number of uninsured falls by 1.4 million

Some experts were predicting a much more negative report, which could have given Republicans ammunition to attack the pace of the economic recovery and perhaps also the healthcare law, the bulk of which has not taken effect yet.

One of the major provisions that is in effect allows children to stay on their parents' healthcare plans until age 26, and the Census Bureau reported that uninsured rates fell among the 19-25 age group.

2011 was also the first time in 10 years that the number of people with private health insurance did not fall, according to the Census Bureau. About 55 percent of the population has private coverage, and 32.2 percent are on government programs — up from 31.2 percent in 2010.