Fewer Uninsured People

From the New York Times:

The number of Americans who lack health insurance declined last year, the first drop since 2007. This is, in large part, the result of the health care reform law and better coverage under public programs like Medicaid. This also shows why repealing the health care law or revamping and shrinking Medicaid, as many Republicans want to do, would be disastrous moves.

The Census Bureau reported on Wednesday that the number of people without health coverage fell to 48.6 million in 2011, or 15.7 percent of the population, down from 49.9 million, or 16.3 percent of the population, in 2010. Health experts attributed a big chunk of the drop to a provision in the health care reform law that allows children to remain on their parents’ policies until age 26. Some three million young adults took advantage of that provision, other surveys show.

The bureau also reported that the percentage of people covered by private insurance stayed flat at 63.9 percent, the first time in a decade it has not fallen. The percentage of Americans covered by government programs, like Medicare, Medicaid, a related children’s health program, and military plans, increased for the fifth consecutive year to reach 32.2 percent in 2011. That is a testament to the importance of government programs in troubled economic times.

In other good news, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust showed that average premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance for family coverage rose 4 percent from last year and individual coverage rose 3 percent — well below the double-digit increases in the past decade. The recession accounts for some of this moderation in costs. The spread of high deductible health plans may also have reduced spending, and some experts think the health care reforms, which don’t fully kick in until 2014, are already pushing health care providers and insurers to lower their costs.

The Census Bureau also reported that median household income, adjusted for inflation, declined last year to $50,054, a level not seen since the mid-1990s, and that income inequality grew significantly worse, as incomes rose for the top earners. Still, the percentage of Americans living in poverty declined slightly after rising in the previous three years, largely because more people shifted from part-time to full-time work. The census data underscore the importance of retaining the health care reforms, which will increasingly make insurance more affordable for middle-class families.

*A version of this editorial appeared in print on September 13, 2012, on page A30 of the New York edition with the headline: Fewer Uninsured People.* Link to the original article here

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