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The Churn Behind The Stable Rate For The Uninsured

At first glance, today's report from the U.S. Census Bureau on the number of Americans without health insurance in 2010 looks, well, a little dull. About 16.3 percent of people in the country were without health insurance, which "was not statistically different from the rate in 2009," the report points out.

But dig a little deeper and there's plenty of action.

Take, for instance, the 2-percentage-point increase in coverage for young adults aged 18 to 24. Long among the most likely to lack insurance, their uninsured rate dropped from 29.3 percent in 2009 to 27.2 percent.

Administration health officials think they know why. One provision of the Affordable Care Act allows young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents' health plans. The increase reported by census officials "translates into 500,000 more young people with insurance," wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a blog post on the department's website.

Now overall, the news remained pretty grim. While the raw number of people with health insurance rose slightly, to 256.2 million in 2010 from 255.3 million in 2009, so did the number of those without insurance, to 49.9 million from 49.0 million.

And the trend away from private coverage and toward public coverage continued. The percentage of the population with employer-provided insurance fell to 55.3 percent, from 56.1 percent the year before. Although, before you start yelling "job-killer" about the Affordable Care Act, that was a far smaller dip than the 3-percentage-point drop reported between 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile, the percentage of people covered by government health insurance grew to 31 percent from 30.6 percent in 2009.

One unexplained oddity is that among the subgroups of the uninsured that grew was the elderly; those over age 65. Thanks to Medicare, nearly all senior citizens have health insurance coverage, so their uninsured rate is traditionally the lowest in the population. In fact, many surveys on health insurance status don't even include seniors because it skews the results. But this year the uninsured rate for seniors popped up slightly, from 1.7 percent to 2 percent. Census officials said they were uncertain why.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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