TUESDAY, Aug. 26, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- The number of Americans without health insurance dropped by more than 1 million people in 2007, the first annual decline in seven years, U.S. Census Bureau officials announced Tuesday.
The drop was driven largely by an increase in the number of children getting health insurance through government-funded programs.
"Both the percentage and number of people without health insurance decreased in 2007," David Johnson, chief of the Census Bureau's Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, said during a morning teleconference.
The percentage of Americans without health insurance was 15.3 percent in 2007, down from 15.8 percent in 2006. The number of uninsured dropped from 47 million in 2006 to 45.7 million in 2007, Johnson said.
The number of people with health insurance increased from 249.8 million in 2006 to 253.4 million in 2007, according to the Census Bureau report: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007.
The number of children with health insurance increased to 8.7 million in 2007, up from 8.1 million in 2006. The number of children living in poverty declined from 2006 to 2007; children living in poverty were more likely to be uninsured.
"The number of children covered by government health insurance programs increased to 31 percent from 29.8 percent in 2006," Johnson said. "This is the main reason for the fall in the uninsured rates in children and for the fall in uninsured rates in the general population," he said.
While the number of people with private health insurance did not change significantly between 2006 and 2007, the number of people covered by government health insurance such as Medicaid increased from 80.3 million in 2006 to 83 million in 2007.
The number of people covered by private health insurance dropped slightly from 67.9 percent in 2006 to 67.5 percent in 2007. And, people covered by employer-based insurance dropped to 59.3 percent in 2007 from 59.7 percent in 2006, according to the report.
People getting their health insurance through Medicaid increased from 38.3 million in 2006 to 39.6 million in 2007.
Among whites, blacks and Hispanics, the number of uninsured dropped. For non-Hispanic whites, the number of uninsured declined from 10.8 percent to 2006 to 10.4 percent in 2007. Among blacks, the number of uninsured dipped from 20.5 percent in 2006 to 19.5 percent in 2007. For Hispanics, the number of uninsured fell from 34.1 percent in 2006 to 32.1 percent in 2007.
Karen Davis, president of The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that seeks to promote a high-performing health care system for all Americans, thinks that the drop in the number of uninsured supports the argument for government-sponsored health insurance programs.
"This is really a bit of a surprise," Davis said. "But when you look at what's really going on, the number of uninsured dropped by 1.3 million, and the increase in coverage under Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) went up by 1.3 million," she said.
This shows the importance of government-funded safety nets, she said.
Davis noted that in Massachusetts, which has a government-sponsored health insurance program, the uninsured rate was 4.7 percent in 2007, compared with 25.5 percent in Texas, which does not have such a program. "You just see the difference the new Massachusetts health reform plan has made in improving coverage," she said.
And though the number of uninsured has declined, there's much work to be done, Davis said. She said: "45.7 million people who are uninsured is still a major problem. There is no cause for celebration that we only have 45.7 million uninsured. There is still a very serious problem -- the most serious problem we have in the health sector."
For more on health insurance, visit The Commonwealth Fund.