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Number of Uninsured Jumped by 5 Million During Downturn, Study Says

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

December 7, 2010 -- The net effect of the economic downturn on the uninsured population was an increase of 5 million to a total of 50 million, according to an Urban Institute analysis.

The number of Americans below age 65 insured through employers dropped by 9.3 million during the period of the study, 2007 through 2009. The drop from 164.5 million to 156.2 million stemmed in large part from job losses and the movement of workers from full-time to part-time status, said Urban Institute analyst John Holohan.

Gains in publicly funded coverage offset some of the losses for adults; the number of uninsured adults during the period increased by 5.6 million. Increases in coverage of uninsured children by Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Programs more than offset losses in coverage of children through employer-sponsored insurance.

Thus the modest gain in children's coverage overall, coupled with the loss of adult coverage, had the combined effect of adding 5 million to the ranks of the uninsured.

The study also found that the largest percentage increase of the uninsured occurred in the Midwest, and that 60 percent of those who became uninsured were white Americans.

Holohan said in a summary of the study that the health care overhaul law will help prevent such losses and largely end the link between employment loss and loss of insurance coverage. But that will not happen until coverage provisions of the law take effect in 2014. Until then, employer-sponsored coverage likely "will continue to decline, because premiums will almost certainly grow faster than wages and salaries," Holohan said. The number of uninsured people "is likely to increase," he added. The study was posted by the policy journal Health Affairs.

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