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Uninsured Numbers Drop A Bit On The Eve Of Health Law Debut

Medicare coverage can be a big help for adults under 65 with disabilities.
Medicare coverage can be a big help for adults under 65 with disabilities.

In one last snapshot before the Affordable Care Act's health exchanges open for business, the Census Bureau reported today on the state of health insurance in 2012. And the numbers were surprisingly not that bad.

The annual results from the Current Population Surveyfound that the number of Americans without health insurance held steady from the previous year at about 48 million people. And the percentage of the population that lacked coverage actually dropped slightly, from 15.7 percent in 2011 to 15.4 percent.

The reason was mostly an increase in coverage by government health programs, particularly Medicare. Last year marked an upsurge in the number of baby boomers starting to qualify for Medicare as they reach age 65.

But the Medicare increases aren't all due to to aging baby boomers. As Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution told Shots: "Many of the 2012 gains in Medicare coverage were obtained by Americans under 65, indicating that a sizable slice of the rise can be traced to enrollment increases in Social Security Disability Insurance."

/ Courtesy of US Census Bureau
Courtesy of US Census Bureau

Adults who have worked are eligible for Social Security Disability, and generally can qualify for Medicare after a two-year waiting period.

However, the report noted, "this is the fourth consecutive year that the percentage and number of people covered by Medicaid were higher than the percentage and number of people covered by Medicare." Medicaid in 2012 accounted for about 51 million people and 16.4 percent of the population, compared to about 49 million and 15.7 percent of the population for Medicare.

Last year also marked the second straight year that the percentage of people covered by private insurance held constant, at 63.9 percent. It had been dropping steadily since the 1990s. In 1999, 73 percent of the population had private coverage.

Young adults are no longer lagging behind when it comes to having health insurance, the Census survey reports.

In a shift probably attributable to the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate for young people aged 19 to 25 in 2012 was no longer statistically different from the rate for those aged 26 to 34.

Since 1999, that younger cohort had one of the highest rates of uninsurance among all age groups. But the health law provision allowing those young adults to return to their parents' health insurance plans starting in 2010 has resulted in a significant upsurge in coverage, with the rate of uninsurance falling by 4.2 percentage points since 2009.

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