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Uninsured Rate Falls as Baby Boomers Pile Into Medicare

Sept. 17 (Bloomberg) -- The share of Americans who get health insurance through their jobs fell for the fourth straight year as aging baby boomers piled into the U.S. government’s Medicare plan and other adults sought coverage on their own.

Medicare enrollment rose to 48.9 million last year, a 2 million-person increase from 2011 that was greater than gains in any other type of health plan, government or private, according to a Census Bureau report released today. While 171 million people still get coverage through employers, the share with private plans fell to 54.9 percent, from 55.1 percent.

The slow decline in employer-based coverage began in 2001, interrupted by a blip in 2008. That trend has the potential to accelerate as core provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act take effect that will create more accessible options for people to select medical coverage.

The percentage of Americans without any coverage did fall last year to 15.4 percent, or about 48 million people, from 15.7 percent in 2011, the Census Bureau said. The uninsured rate peaked in 2010 at 16.3 percent, the year Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, a law whose core provision was subsidized insurance exchanges that begin enrollment Oct. 1.

“It really is a stark reminder of the importance of the enrollment process for the Affordable Care Act that starts in two weeks,” Ron Pollack, executive director of the health advocacy group Families USA, said in a telephone interview. “It shows that we’ve got an enormous amount of work to do to make sure that health coverage is available and affordable for many tens of millions of people.”

The health law, which also will expand the state-run Medicaid programs for the poor starting Jan. 1, is projected to extend coverage to at least 25 million uninsured by 2016, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

The health data released today was part of a broader Census Bureau report that presented a portrait of a stagnant economy with poverty remaining high and incomes sluggish four years into the recovery from the worst slump since the Great Depression.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Wayne in Washington at awayne3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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