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Census report: More Americans relying on Medicare, Medicaid (VIDEO)

More people turned to Medicare and Medicaid last year and fewer relied on employers for health insurance coverage, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. What does this portend for Obama's health-care reform law?

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Tuesday's Census report showed that almost 50 million Americans are uninsured, or 1 million more than in 2009. It also showed that there were 46.2 million people living in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 ─ the third consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published. That represents 15.1 percent of people in the US.

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The growing ranks of poor Americans demonstrate the need for federal safety-net programs, argues Ron Pollack, founding executive director of Families USA, a national organization for health care consumers. “This, to me, tells Washington it’s very important to protect Medicaid, because to do otherwise would fray the lifeline that people who have lost employer-sponsored healthcare need to stay insured.”

Only a few provisions of the 2010 healthcare reform law have gone into effect so far, so it may be too early to declare the law a failure or a success, some analysts say.

Moreover, the Census report may overstate the number of uninsured, says Devon Herrick, from the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas. He cautions that the Census numbers overrely on self-reporting by those whose circumstances may be very different from the prior 12 months.

“Most experts agree the Census Bureau is not actually measuring the uninsured for the full year. Rather, people on surveys tend to answer the Census Bureau question based on whether they have coverage at that point in time.”

The report shows that a clear and worrisome trend was afoot even before the world economic downturn hit in 2007. The number Americans lacking health insurance rose from 13.7 percent to 16.7 percent from 2000 to 2009.

“The implications of this, for me, is that it wasn’t the policy of any one time that created this problem of health-insurance affordability, and therefore to blame or applaud the current administration is way too simplistic,” says Kaveh Safavi, a senior health executive for Accenture, a global management consulting firm. “This is not a political issue but rather a fundamental economic national issue that needs to be discussed that way.”

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