Census: More Americans Have Health Insurance As People Age Into Medicare

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New U.S. Census figures show that the number of Americans with health insurance increased last year from 2011, due largely to the first wave of Baby Boomers reaching the Medicare eligibility age of 65.

“That’s primarily driven by the white, non-Hispanic population,” said Jennifer Day, assistant division chief for employment characteristics in the Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division of the Census Bureau.

America’s population grew by 2.3 million people form 2011 to 2012. During that time, the number of people who had health insurance rose by 2.95 million, while the number of uninsured decreased by about 663,000, according to statistics released Tuesday.

Medicare covered 48.9 million Americans last year, compared with 46.9 million in 2011. The percentage of Americans covered by Medicare increased from 15.2 percent in 2011 to 15.7 percent last year, while the percentage of people covered by employer-based insurance or Medicaid was relatively flat, the new Census data show.

The aging Baby Boomer population into Medicare eligibility has been anticipated by private health insurers who are trying to increase their share in the Medicare market through such products as Medicare Advantage and prescription-only Medicare Part D plans.

Last year, for example, Aetna acquired Coventry Health Care Inc. for $5.6 billion and Cigna Corp. spent $3.8 billion to buy HealthSpring. In both cases the Connecticut-based health insurers are trying to gain a larger share of the swelling Medicare population.

The new statistics are based on the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey of about 100,000 households across the country. More detailed information will be available Thursday when the federal agency releases its American Community Survey based on information from about 3 million households nationwide.

The percentage of Americans and the number of people who have private health insurance, such as a plan sponsored by an employer, were flat from 2011 to 2012. The percentage of Americans who have government-funded health insurance, however, increased from 32.2 percent to 32.6 percent of the U.S. population, to 311.1 million people in 2012.

More children were covered in some way last year than in 2011. The number of uninsured children dropped from 7 million in 2011 to 6.6 million last year, a change from 9.4 percent to 8.9 percent. Children in poverty continue to be uninsured at a greater rate than other children, with 12.9 percent of children in poverty uninsured compared with 7.7 percent of children not in poverty.

“The good news is that … the percentage of uninsured has dropped and we think that’s in large measure because the public programs are doing what they’re supposed to do,” said Sharon Langer, senior policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, a policy think tank.

Langer attributed the improvements to efforts at the state and federal level, including the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010.

One provision — which took effect Sept. 23, 2010 — allowed parents to keep their children as dependents on their health insurance policy until age 26. Much of the benefit was realized in comparing 2011 uninsured rates with 2010 rates for people 19 to 25 years old, but there was some continued help last year, Day said. The number of uninsured Americans 19 to 25 years old decreased from 8.27 million in 2011 to 8.21 million last year, a drop of 66,000, or one-half of a percent of the 30 million in that age category. Connecticut passed this provision in 2009, earlier than the federal law.

The percentage of Americans covered by Medicaid, for people who are poor or disabled, was not statistically different from 2011 to 2012, holding steady at 16.4 percent.

The number of Americans without health insurance decreased from 48.61 million to 47.95 million, which is 15.4 percent of the U.S. population.

Asians and Hispanics had the greatest improvements in the rates of health coverage. The rate of uninsured Hispanics decreased from 30.1 percent in 2011 to 29.1 percent last year. For Asians, the percentage of uninsured dropped from 16.8 percent to 15.1 percent. The uninsured rate for black people fell from 19.5 percent to 19 percent. For non-Hispanic white people, the rate held steady at 11.1 percent.

 

About Matthew Sturdevant

Full-time staff journalist at The Hartford Courant and magazine freelancer with a master's degree in writing from Dartmouth. My work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Taiwan News, The Baltimore Sun and many other news sources. My blog has been referenced by Politico.com, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Georgetown Law Library and a number of organizations in healthcare and business. Sturdevant’s blog is "a well-written wealth of ideas," said The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, (businessjournalism.org, May 18, 2011). I have experience writing for newspapers, magazines, Web sites and blogs as well as shooting and editing video. I made regular appearances on news-talk radio and on the NBC affiliate station in Corpus Christi, Texas. I made occasional appearances on the Fox affiliate in Connecticut promoting Hartford Courant articles.

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