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Census Reports Rise in Uninsured Americans
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By Amanda Gardner, HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDayNews) -- The number of people in the United States without health insurance rose to 45 million last year, the government reported Thursday, and new statistics show that the increase outpaced that for people getting coverage.

A U.S. Census Bureau report found that 1 million more people were covered in 2003 than in 2002, but "the number of people without health insurance coverage rose by 1.4 million over that same period," said Daniel H. Weinberg, the bureau's chief of housing and household economic statistics.

Figuring heavily into the statistics was another finding in the report that the poverty rate also rose between 2002 and 2003.

"The net result was that 15.6 percent of the population, or 45 million people, were without health insurance coverage in 2003, up from 15.2 percent in 2002," Weinberg said at a news conference.

The number of people with health coverage increased from 242.4 million in 2002 to 243.3 million in 2003.

Between 1987 and 1998, the uninsured rate either increased or was unchanged. "After peaking at 16.3 percent in 1998, the rate dropped for two years in a row to 14.2 percent in 2000, before the latest period of annual increases, culminating in a rate of 15.6 percent for 2003," Weinberg said.

The percentage of children without health insurance remained unchanged at 11.4 percent.

This data, the most recent available, comes from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, which is one of the bureau's longest-running reviews. The survey has a sample size of about 100,000 addresses, with more than 50 questions on income. The estimates "are the best available at the national level," said Census Bureau director Charles Louis Kincannon.

"We should all be concerned by the data released today," Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis said in a statement. "These disturbing findings highlight the need for new policies to expand coverage and make it more affordable for American families, and they are just the latest data to highlight that need."

The news conference, which included data from the American Community Survey, also showed an increase in the nation's official poverty rate, from 12.1 percent in 2002 to 12.5 percent in 2003. The real median household income stayed the same, at $43,318.

The percentage of people receiving coverage from their employers dropped from 61.3 percent in 2002 to 60.4 percent in 2003. This explains the overall decline in total private health insurance coverage, from 69.6 percent in 2002 to 68.6 percent in 2003.

This decline, however, was "partially offset by increases in government coverage," Weinberg said. During the same period, Medicare coverage increased 0.2 percent, to 13.7 percent, while Medicaid coverage rose 0.7 percent, to 12.4 percent. Overall, the percentage of people covered by government health insurance programs increased from 25.7 percent in 2003 to 26.6 percent.

Similarly, the stable rate of children without health insurance was because "a decline in the coverage of children by employment-based plans was offset by an increase in their coverage by Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program," Weinberg said.

Children in poverty were more likely to be uninsured: 19.2 percent in 2003, compared to 11.4 percent of all children. Children aged 12 to 17 were more likely to lack insurance than those under the age of 12 (12.7 percent vs. 10.6 percent).

There were also some changes in the racial and ethnic distribution of health coverage. While the uninsured rate for blacks (about 19.5 percent) and Asians (about 18.7 percent) did not change, the percent of non-Hispanic whites without coverage increased from 10.7 percent to 11.1 percent. "Hispanics have the highest rate of people without health insurance in 2003 of any group distinguished by race or Hispanic origin -- 32.7 percent, which is unchanged from 2002," Weinberg said.

At 21 percent, Hispanic children were more likely to be uninsured than non-Hispanic white, black, or Asian children.

More than a quarter (27.5 percent) of American Indians and Alaska natives lacked health coverage, the second highest rate after Hispanics. This rate had not changed from the year before.

More than a third (34.5 percent) of foreign-born individuals lacked health insurance, two and a half times that of the native-born population (13 percent) in 2003.

The only region to show an increase in the rate of uninsured individuals in 2003 was the South, up from 17.5 percent in 2002 to 18 percent in 2003.

More information

View the report, Income Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003, at the U.S. Census Bureau (www.census.gov ).

SOURCES: Aug. 26, 2004 news conference with Louis Kincannon, director, U.S. Census Bureau, and Daniel H. Weinberg, Ph.D., chief, housing and household economic statistics, U.S. Census Bureau; Commonwealth Fund statement

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