Record number of Americans are uninsured

Almost 50 million Americans had no health insurance in 2010, a record high number, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Tuesday.

The percentage of uninsured rose to 16.3 percent, considered statistically the same as the 16.1 percent rate in 2009.

Georgia’s three-year average of 19 percent uninsured ranked the Peach State sixth-highest among states in the percentage of residents who lack insurance.

The state ‘’consistently has been in the top 10 in percentage of uninsured,’’ said Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University. “That’s likely to continue.’’

He said the rise in uninsured – from 49 million in 2009 to 49.9 million last year – was lower than expected, and not as big a jump as from 2008 to 2009.

Much of the 2010 increase is attributed to the continued loss of employer-sponsored coverage amid a weakened economy.

The Census Bureau also reported the number of Americans in poverty jumped to 15.1 percent in 2010. About 46.2 million people, or nearly 1 in 6, were in poverty.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people with employer-based health coverage continued to erode, falling from 56.1 percent in 2009 to 55.3 percent in 2010, while the percentage in government insurance programs continued to grow, reaching 31 percent.

Yet the 18-24 age group showed a gain in health insurance coverage. The percentage of young adults with insurance increased from 70.7 percent in 2009 to 72.8 percent, representing about 500,000 more young people with insurance.

Experts linked that jump to the 2010 health reform law’s provision allowing children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance plan.

The main provisions in the Affordable Care Act, as the law is more formally known, are scheduled to be implemented in 2014, unless the law is overturned in the court system or repealed by Congress.

The South continued to have the highest percentage of uninsured among the regions, at 19.1 percent, the Census report showed.

The number of Americans in the Medicaid program was statistically unchanged, as was the percentage of children without insurance, at 9.8 percent.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a consumer advocacy group that supports the Affordable Care Act, said Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (PeachCare in Georgia) have served as a safety net for people losing employer-based coverage.

“The Census Bureau report clearly underscores the importance of protecting Medicaid from budget cuts, and it shows why implementation of the Affordable Care Act is crucial,’’ Pollack said in a statement. “Medicaid has become a key lifeline for millions of families across the country, and that lifeline must be protected.’’

Nina Owcharenko, a health policy expert with the Heritage Foundation, which opposes the reform law, said the data reflect the trend of greater dependence on government programs.

“Obamacare puts this trend on the fast track by pushing more Americans onto government coverage, specifically through the expansion of Medicaid and the new subsidies funneled through the government exchanges,” Owcharenko said in a statement.