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Private insurance at 50-year low, CDC says

Thu., July 2, 2009

ATLANTA – The percentage of Americans with private health insurance has hit its lowest mark in 50 years, according to two new government reports.

About 65 percent of non-elderly Americans had private insurance in 2008, down from 67 percent the year before, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s bad news,” said Kenneth Thorpe, a health policy researcher at Emory University.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, nearly 80 percent of Americans had private coverage, according to CDC officials.

Some experts blamed the faltering economy and corporate decisions to raise health insurance premiums – or do away with employee coverage – as the main drivers of the recent data. They say coverage statistics for 2009 may look even worse.

However, public coverage of adults is rising in some states, due to programs like Medicaid expanding eligibility. So not all the adults without private coverage are uninsured, Thorpe said.

The CDC estimated that about 44 million Americans were uninsured last year – about the same as CDC estimates for other recent years.

The CDC is one of at least three U.S. agencies that estimate the number of Americans without health insurance. The U.S. Census Bureau puts out what is perhaps the best-known number; that agency’s 2008 estimate is due in August.

Like the Census Bureau, the CDC’s estimate is based on a survey. The CDC interviewed about 75,000 Americans last year, asking if they were uninsured at the time. About 15 percent said yes, leading to the estimate that about 44 million Americans were uninsured.

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