WASHINGTON Nearly 59 million Americans went without health insurance coverage for at least part of 2010, many of them with conditions or diseases that needed treatment, federal health officials said on Tuesday.
They said 4 million more Americans went without insurance in the first part of 2010 than during the same time in 2008.
"Both adults and kids lost private coverage over the past decade," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news briefing.
The findings have implications for U.S. healthcare reform efforts. A bill passed in March promises to get health insurance coverage to 32 million Americans who currently lack coverage.
But Republicans who just took control of the House of Representatives last week have vowed to derail the new law by cutting off the funds for it, and some want to repeal it. Experts from both sides predict gridlock in Congress for the next two years in implementing healthcare reform's provisions.
Even before the healthcare reform act, Congress passed provisions expanding free health coverage for children.
"As private insurance coverage fell, the safety net protected children, but did not adequately protect adults," Frieden said.
Nine percent of adults lost private insurance, and public insurance picked up just 5 percent of them, the CDC said. Frieden said 22 percent of adults aged 18 to 64 are uninsured.
The CDC analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey or NHIS for 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 and the first quarter of 2010 for its report. "It's an in-person household survey interviewing nearly 90,000 individuals from around 35,000 households," Frieden said.
The analysis found that in the first quarter of 2010, an estimated 59.1 million people had no health insurance for at least part of the year, an increase from 58.7 million in 2009 and 56.4 million in 2008.
More than 80 percent were adults aged 18 to 64. People over 65 are eligible for Medicare, the federal health insurance plan for the elderly.
Frieden said more people also went for a year or more with no health insurance -- from 27.5 million in 2008 to 30.4 million in the first quarter of 2010. "That's an increase of 3 million in chronically uninsured adults," he said.
"Now, the data also allow us to debunk two myths about health care coverage," Frieden added.
"The first myth is that it's only the poor who are uninsured. In fact, half of the uninsured are over the poverty level and one in three adults under 65 in the middle income range -- defined arbitrarily here between $44,000 and $65,000 a year for a family of four -- were uninsured at some point in the year."
And Frieden said many people argue that only the healthy risk going without health insurance.
"In fact ... more than two out of five individuals who are uninsured at some point during the past year had one or more chronic diseases and this is based on just a partial list of chronic diseases," he said.
For example, 15 million of the people who went without health insurance had high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma.
People with such conditions often end up in emergency rooms and require treatment, paid for by hospitals or taxpayers, that is far more expensive than getting proper preventive care would have been.
"If you have diabetes and you don't get needed care in the short term you end up in the intensive care unit," Frieden said.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)