15 percent of Americans lacked health insurance last year

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By Maggie Fox

The latest report to look at health insurance in the United States – covering almost the last period before Obamacare takes full effect – shows about 15 percent of all Americans went without health insurance during the first half of this year.

The figures from the National Center for Health Statistics don’t show any startling changes from recent years in terms of health insurance coverage. They’ll help set a baseline for measuring the effects of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which aims to get health insurance coverage to all Americans.

The numbers come from the National Health Interview Survey, a giant look at about 35,000 households representing more than 80,000 people.

From January to June of 2013, the survey shows, 14.6 percent of those interviewed had no health insurance. That’s 45.2 million people, including more than 5 million children. Everyone over 65 is supposed to be covered by Medicare, the federal health insurance plan for the elderly and some disabled, and data from people under 65 shows 16.8 percent had no health insurance.

The new online health insurance exchanges are supposed to provide health insurance to people who don’t have it. They’re struggling now to get people enrolled – the U.S. government says about 365,000 people got enrolled on state and federal exchanges in October and November.

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Some sites work better than others. New York reported Monday that 134,622 people have been fully enrolled on its state-run exchange.

Some states are also expanding Medicaid, the joint state-federal health insurance plan for low-income people.

Most Americans are covered by private health insurance through an employer. The latest statistics show that 61 percent of people under 65 had private health insurance – one of the lowest levels ever and down from more than 65 percent in 2008 and 73 percent in 1999.

One reason for wanting to get people covered by some kind of insurance is so they will get regular medical care and in theory stay healthier. People who wait until they are acutely ill – like someone who is having a heart attack – cost far more to help than people who get treated early for high blood pressure or cholesterol, studies show. That’s even factoring in years of treatment.

And people who don’t have a usual source of care often end up in hospital emergency rooms or in taxpayer- or charity-supported clinics. The NCHS survey finds that about 86 percent of people had a usual source of care, like a regular doctor or clinic.

The NCHS also reports that 2.4 percent of all Americans had problems finding a general doctor, 2.1 percent had been told that a doctor’s office or clinic would not accept them as new patients, and 2.9 percent were told a doctor’s office or clinic did not accept their health care coverage.

And about 6 percent said they had skipped some sort of needed medical care due to cost at some time during the past 12 months. That’s about the same as in 2012.

The report also has other snapshots of American health. It finds 28.4 percent of adults aged 20 or over are obese – defined as having a body mass index (BMI) or 30 or higher. And just under 40 percent of adults say they’ve been tested for HIV in their lives. About half of adults aged 25 to 44 have. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone get tested for the AIDS virus.

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