Rate Of Uninsured Stays Flat In 2010, Census Reports

Nearly 50 million Americans lacking health insurance was the best economic news to come out of the bleak U.S. Census figures released today.

While poverty increased, household earnings dropped and more families doubled up in living quarters, the nation’s rate of people without health insurance in 2010 stayed flat at 16.3 percent of the population, statistically the same as the year before.

The government said 49.9 million people lacked coverage in 2010, up from 49.0 million in 2009. The number of people with health insurance grew to 256.2 million in 2010 from 255.3 in 2009.

Census officials noted that 2010 was the first year after the recession officially ended. Yet the nation’s job status remained difficult, leading to the flatlined health insurance rate.

“With the economy improving, we should have seen an improvement in the uninsured rates, but we didn’t see that, because the unemployment rate didn’t change,” said Paul Fronstin, director of health research at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit. 

These are among the significant health insurance findings in the Census figures for 2010: 

Ethnicity. The rate of Asians without coverage increased by 1.6 percentage points, while the rate of Hispanics without coverage dropped by 0.9 percentage points. The rates of uninsurance among blacks and whites didn’t change significantly. Interestingly, these groups had the opposite experience with income changes: blacks and whites saw their median household earnings drop while incomes for Asian and Hispanic households stayed constant.

Private insurance. Government continued to provide more health insurance and private insurers less. The percent of people covered by private health plans dropped from 64.5 percent to 64 percent. “For the last 10 years, private health insurance has continuously decreased,” said Brett O’Hara, chief, of the health and disability statistics branch at the Census Bureau, in a conference call announcing the figures.

For the fourth straight year, government coverage grew, rising to 31 percent in 2010 from 30.6 percent in 2009.  Medicaid, the joint-federal state program for the poor, covered 15.9 percent of the population, the same as the year before.

Income. Among households earning between $25,000 and $49,999, the rate of people without insurance grew 0.8 of a percentage point. Uninsurance rates among other income levels didn’t change significantly.

Young children. The uninsured rate for children in poverty was 15.4 percent, greater than the 9.8 percent rate for all children.

Adult children. The percent of people aged 18 to 24 without insurance dropped by 2 percentage points. The Obama administration credited last year’s health care law, which allowed families to keep older offspring on their health plans until they were 26. 

Still, more than a quarter of young adults in this age group—27.2 percent — lacked coverage in 2010.

Elderly people. The number of people aged 65 and older without insurance increased slightly to 2 percent in 2010 from 1.7 percent in 2009. Census officials said they couldn’t explain the increase, which seemed odd since Medicare covers this age group.

Citizenship. The rate of naturalized citizens without coverage increased by 1.6 percentage points.

Disability. The rate of people with disabilities but no insurance increased by 1.3 percentage points.

Last year, the Census reported the number of uninsured Americans as 50.7 million.  But the bureau said it refined its previous years’ estimates, which lowered that 2009 uninsurance rate to 49 million.

jrau@kff.org