Number of uninsured falls slightly

By Jerry Geisel

The number of people without health insurance in the United States fell slightly even as employment-based coverage continued its long, steady decline, the Bureau of the Census reported Tuesday.

Last year, the number of Americans without health insurance fell to 45.7 million, down slightly from 47 million in 2006, while the percentage of the population without coverage dropped to 15.3% from 15.8%.

That drop in the number of uninsured is attributable to the growth in coverage provided through government programs such as Medicaid, which offset the decline in employment-based coverage.

Last year, the percentage of the population covered through government health care programs increased to 27.8%, from 27% in 2006. The percentage of the population covered through employment-based plans, though, fell to 59.3% in 2007, down from 59.7% in 2006.

At the state level, Massachusetts had the lowest rate of uninsured in the United States when averaged over 2006 and 2007, according to the survey. The state’s uninsured rate for that two-year period averaged 7.9%, down from 10.3% averaged over 2004 and 2005.

That decline coincided with the enactment of legislation in 2006 aimed at pushing Massachusetts to near-universal coverage within a few years. To accomplish that, Massachusetts subsidizes health insurance premiums for the low-income uninsured and imposes penalties on employers that do not offer coverage and on most state residents who do not enroll in a health care plan.

On the other hand, from 2006 through 2007, an average of 24.8% of Texans lacked health insurance coverage, the highest uninsured rate of any state, and up from an average uninsured rate of 23.9% from 2004 through 2005.