* Healthcare reform blunts decline in private coverage
* Medicare, Medicaid expand to cover poor, aged, disabled
* First improvement in U.S. coverage since 2007
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, Sept 12 Some 1.3 million more
Americans had health insurance in 2011, as healthcare reform
helped blunt a decade-long decline in private coverage and
government safety nets expanded to cover growing numbers of the
poor, elderly and disabled.
Census Bureau data released on Wednesday showed that the
number of uninsured shrank to 48.6 million people from 50
million in 2010, leaving 15.7 percent of the U.S. population
without the most reliable means to pay for doctors, hospitals
and life-saving procedures including cancer screenings.
The findings were part of a broader report on poverty in
America, showing that the number of U.S. poor held steady, but
the income inequality gap had grown.
In terms of health coverage, the United States posted its
first improvement since 2007, with broad gains across age,
racial and employment groups. Among the biggest winners were
young people aged 19 to 25, who are now allowed to stay on their
parent's plans under President Barack Obama's healthcare law.
That should come as good news for Obama as he battles for
reelection against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney,
who has vowed to repeal "Obamacare" on allegations that it
amounts to a costly, unworkable big-government bureaucracy.
Analysts predict the number of uninsured Americans will fall
more significantly in 2014, when more than 30 million people are
scheduled to become eligible for coverage under Obama's Patient
Protection and Affordable Care Act.
But today, there are still 18 million more people without
insurance than in 1987, the earliest year cited by the Census
Bureau report. Analysts said 2011's improvement stemmed largely
from the impact of a weak economy and a burgeoning elderly
"Given the long-run decline in insurance, given the backdrop
of increasing inequality, I'm not sure this is good news. But
it's better news than we've come to expect," said University of
Michigan health economist Tom Buchmueller.
MORE ELDERLY, POOR ELIGIBLE
The percentage of Americans with private insurance was
little changed at 63.9 percent in 2011, the first year without a
statistically significant decline since 2000. That stability was
due largely to a 2.2 percentage point coverage gain among young
"Private coverage rose among those under 25, apparently
largely as a result of the health reform law, while private
coverage continued to fall among those aged 25 to 64. And the
two effects offset each other," said Robert Greenstein of the
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The ranks of those who depend on government health coverage
swelled by 4 million people, split about evenly between the
Medicare program for the elderly and disabled and the Medicaid
program for the poor.
Analysts attributed the rise in Medicaid recipients to a
substantial drop in income among those at the bottom of the
income scale and a continuing trend among employers to reduce
health coverage for lower-wage workers.
Medicare's ranks grew as more members of the baby boom
generation entered retirement, underscoring concerns about the
popular $590 billion program's future finances and its impact on
the federal deficit.
Edmund Haislmaier of the conservative Heritage Foundation
said the Census report mainly reinforced a picture of stalled
job growth, a graying population and growing reliance on
government assistance among lower-income people.
"It is similar to what you see in the labor market when the
unemployment rate goes down, not because the number of jobs
significantly increased, but because people were leaving the
workforce - some of whom may be retiring," he said.