Census: Fewer Americans Lacked Health Insurance in 2011

Jointly released with the Keystone Research Center

Affordable Care Act’s Coverage for Young Adults, Public Coverage for Children Helping Drive Trend

HARRISBURG, PA (September 12, 2012) — New data released by the Census Bureau underscore the important contributions of the Affordable Care Act as the share of Americans without health insurance declined in 2011 for the first time in four years.

Overall, the percentage of Americans without health insurance dropped from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.7 percent in 2011, the largest annual improvement since 1999. The number of uninsured Americans declined from 50 million in 2010 to 48.6 million in 2011.

This gain in coverage was driven in part by an increase in the number of young adults who have health coverage. This appears to be largely the result of a provision in the Affordable Care Act allowing people under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ private health insurance plans.

Public insurance programs including the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid also helped maintain insurance coverage for children in 2011. A little-known provision of the Affordable Care Act requires states to maintain eligibility levels in these programs, helping to keep the rate of insurance among children and adults stable.

“For much of the last decade, the story has been that Americans have lost their health coverage. This year the story's changed,” said Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. “Because of policies, including the Affordable Care Act, we saw an increase in health coverage in 2011. Pennsylvania should keep that progress going by fully implementing the law, including taking advantage of the opportunity to close the Medicaid coverage gap.”

Census Bureau data also showed a rise in income inequality in 2011. U.S. median household incomes fell in 2011 by 1.5 percent. The share of income captured by the bottom 80 percent of households declined, while the top 1 percent of households saw their share of incomes rise by 6 percent.

The national poverty rate remained steady in 2011 but could have been worse were it not for unemployment insurance, which kept 2.3 million out of poverty, and Social Security, which kept 14.5 million seniors out of poverty. Census Bureau estimates suggest that counting the income from food stamps would reduce the number of Americans in poverty by 3.9 million, while counting the income from the Earned Income Tax Credit would reduce the number in poverty by 5.7 million.

Overall, the national poverty rate remained at 15 percent in 2011, with one in nearly seven Americans living below the poverty line.

“Unemployment benefits and Social Security kept millions of Americans out of poverty during the worst recession in two generations,” said Mark Price, Labor Economist for the Keystone Research Center. “They helped protect the middle class from losing it all.”

The Pennsylvania Story

In Pennsylvania, roughly one in eight Pennsylvanians under age 65 were uninsured in 2010-2011, essentially unchanged from 2008-09 but 2.1 percent higher than in 2006-07 and 3.7 percent higher than in 2000-01.

These state-level figures from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey are preliminary and averaged over two years to improve their reliability. It is the only data available on state poverty and health insurance trends through 2011. On September 20, the Census Bureau will release more definitive 2011 data as part of the American Community Survey, which is a larger review.

Medicaid covered 16.2 percent of Pennsylvanians under age 65 in 2010-2011, essentially unchanged from 2008-09 but 3 percent higher than in 2006-07 and 6.8 percent higher than in 2000-01.

In 2010 and 2011, one out of every eight people in Pennsylvania, 12.4 percent, lived in poverty, up from 10.8 percent before the recession began in 2006-2007.

Continue Health Reform’s Progress

The positive impact of the Affordable Care Act’s young adult provision and the success of Medicaid and CHIP in providing coverage to children illustrate the critical importance of implementing the rest of the health care reform law, noted Ward.

This includes expanding the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medical Assistance, to more working adults who can’t afford to purchase private health insurance. This opportunity could bring $17 billion into the state’s economy to support additional health coverage to working adults. It’s up to state lawmakers to decide whether to extend coverage.

“By expanding Medical Assistance, Pennsylvania can further reduce the number of uninsured residents at a very low cost to the state while boosting the state’s economy,” Ward said. “It would be a mistake to let this opportunity pass.”