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Number of uninsured rises in 2008: Census Bureau


WASHINGTON—The number of people without health insurance in the United States increased slightly last year as employment-based coverage continued its long, steady decline, the Bureau of the Census reported Thursday.

Last year, the number of Americans without health insurance rose to 46.3 million, up from 45.7 million in 2007, while the percentage of the population without coverage was 15.4%, which the Census Bureau said was not statistically different from 2007, when the rate was 15.3%.

The increase in the number of uninsured is attributable to the decline in employment-based coverage. The number of people covered by employer-based health care plans in 2008 was 176.3 million, down from 177.4 million in 2007, while the percentage of people covered by employer plans decreased to 58.5% in 2008, compared with 59.3% in 2007.

On the other hand, the percentage of the population in government health insurance programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare, rose to 29% in 2008 from 27.8% in 2007.

At the state level, Massachusetts had the lowest rate of uninsured in the United States when averaged over 2007 and 2008, according to the Census Bureau. The state’s uninsured rate for that two-year period averaged 5.4%, down from 9.8% averaged over 2005 and 2006.

That decline resulted from enactment of legislation in 2006 aimed at pushing Massachusetts to near-universal health insurance coverage.

To reach that objective, 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 meeting certain standards.

On the other hand, from 2007 through 2008, an average of 25.1% of Texans lacked health insurance coverage—the highest rate of any state—and up from an average uninsured rate of 24.1% from 2005 to 2006.