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Health Insurance Rates Rise, Poverty Unchanged in 2007

Some 45.7 million people went without health insurance in 2007, as compared to 47 million in 2006.

The percentage of people living in poverty in 2007 was 12.5 percent, according to the same report — statistically unchanged from 12.3 percent in 2006. And the median household income rose 1.3 percent to $50,233.

The encouraging numbers are tempered by the fact that the report only records the situation as of the end of 2007, before the worst of the recent economic downturn.

This was the first year since 2000 that the total number of uninsured Americans dropped, and the first year since 2004 that the percentage of uninsured Americans dropped — from 15.8 percent in 2006 to 15.3 percent in 2007.

That drop is due to an increase in coverage by government programs, such as Medicaid for the poor and SCHIP for children. The number of people covered by private insurance continues to decrease, from 67.9 percent of Americans in 2006 to 67.5 percent in 2007.

“This is the main reason for the fall in the uninsured rate for children and for the fall in the overall uninsured rate, ” David Johnson, head of the Census Bureau’s housing and household economic statistics division, said at a news conference. “The fall in private insurance was similar to recent years. That fall was offset by the rise in government insurance.”

In December, President Bush signed legislation extending funding for the SCHIP program through March 2009, after previously vetoing two congressional attempts to expand the program.

Critics of the Bush administration dismissed the gains.

“The gains that occurred last year were welcome, but unfortunately, they are too little, too late,” Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington, told the Associated Press. The number and percentage of uninsured are still higher than they were in 2000, when 39.8 million people, or 14.1 percent of the population, were uninsured.

A three-year average of data from 2005-2007 showed that Texas had the highest uninsured rate, at 24.4 percent, while Massachusetts and Hawaii had the lowest rates, at 8.3 percent.

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