Rates of uninsured drop, insurance premiums rise modestly

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon and Kaiser Health News

The number of Americans without health insurance fell to 48.6 million last year, or 15.7 percent of the population, the first drop since 2007, according to new U.S. Census numbers released today.

At the same time, a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that health insurance premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $15,745 this year. Thats up 4 percent over last year, but a more modest increase than in previous years when health costs far outpaced earnings. The average family pays nearly $4,500 a year for its share of health insurance costs, according to the 2012 Employer Health Benefits Survey.

The costs for individuals rose by 3 percent.

Since 2002, premiums have increased 97 percent, three times as fast as wages, which rose 33 percent, and racing ahead of inflation, which rose 28 percent in the same period.

In terms of employee insurance costs, this years 4 percent increase qualifies as a good year, but it still takes a growing bite out of middle-class workers wages, which have been flat or falling in real terms, said Kaiser Family Foundation president and CEO Drew Altman.

Health analysts say the economy is playing a role in costs. Fewer people may be visiting doctors or choosing expensive elective surgeries, which may be driving total health costs down. Its unclear what will happen to health spending when the economy improves, Altman said.

With respect to the percent of uninsured declining, supporters of the Affordable Care Act attributed the lower numbers directly to Obamacare. Opponents want the law overturned before it is fully implemented in 2014.

Pro-Obamacare advocates from Families USA said the census data provide unmistakable evidence that the new health law is helping people.

Throughout 2011, Obamacare enabled young adults up to the age of 26 to receive health coverage through their parents insurance policies and, as a result, people in that age group experienced a significant decrease in the number and percent who are uninsured, said Ron Pollack, executive director for Families USA.

The census data found that among young people ages 19 to 25, the rate of uninsured dropped to 27.7 percent from nearly 30 percent the year before.