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The number of U.S. residents without health insurance remained nearly unchanged last year, as an increase in coverage through government programs offset another drop in employment-based coverage, the U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday.
The number of uninsured in 2010 rose to 49.9 million, up from 49 million in 2009. The percentage without coverage climbed to 16.3%, which was not a statistically significant change from the 2009 uninsured rate of 16.1%, the Census Bureau said.
The number of people with health coverage increased to 256.2 million in 2010, up from 255.3 million, which the Census Bureau said also was not a statistically significant change.
On the other hand, the percentage of people covered through employer-sponsored plans in 2010 fell to a record low—55.3%—down from 56.1% in 2009. In all, the number of people covered in employment-based plans fell to 169.3 million in 2010, down from 170.8 million in 2009.
Conversely, the percentage of people covered through government programs increased.
For example, the percentage of the population covered by Medicaid—the federal-state program for the poor—rose to 15.9% in 2010, up from 15.7% the previous year, and the number of people enrolled in Medicaid increased to 48.6 million, up from 47.8 million. While these figures are records, they are not significantly different statistically compared with 2009, the Census Bureau said.
The percentage and number of people enrolled in Medicare also set records last year. In 2010, 44.3 million people were enrolled in Medicare, up from 43.4 million, while the percentage of the population covered by Medicare increased to 14.5% from 14.3%.
The decline in employment-based coverage likely would have been greater had it not been for a government program that subsidized COBRA health insurance premiums for up to 15 months for employees laid off through May 31, 2010. Under that now-expired program, the government paid 65% of COBRA health insurance premiums for terminated employees. Studies found that the COBRA opt-in rate among large employers roughly doubled after the subsidy was available.
At 5%, Massachusetts had the lowest uninsured rate—averaged over 2009 and 2010—of any state, according to the Census Bureau. That is the result of a 2006 law that created a program in which the state subsidizes health insurance premiums of the low-income uninsured, and imposes penalties on employers not offering coverage and assessments on individuals without health insurance coverage—except those who can prove that affordable coverage was not available and those who obtain special waivers.
On the other hand, Texas had the highest state uninsured rate at 25%.