At 16.6%, Number of Uninsured American Adults Ties High

by Elizabeth Mendes and Frank Newport

Average percentage uninsured in 2009 significantly higher than in 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Congress continues to grapple with moving healthcare reform legislation forward, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index finds that the percentage of uninsured American adults remains elevated in comparison to last year. That percentage was 16.6% last month, tying the high on this 21-month-old measure and up from the 13.9% who were without coverage in September 2008.

Monthly Average Percentages of U.S. Adults Without Health Insurance, January 2008-September 2009

"While there has been some fluctuation in the estimated percentage of uninsured in 2009, the ranks of the uninsured have clearly remained higher compared to last year."

Gallup and Healthways started asking Americans aged 18 and older about their health insurance coverage on a daily basis in January 2008, with each monthly aggregate consisting of approximately 30,000 interviews. Throughout 2009, the percentage of uninsured Americans has been higher than in the comparable months of 2008, with some minor monthly fluctuations. At 16.2%, the average percentage of uninsured in the first nine months of 2009 is measurably higher than the 2008 average of 14.8%.

A broader perspective reinforces the basic finding that the ranks of the uninsured have increased since January 2008. There have been seven quarters since then, and the estimated percentage uninsured in each quarter is based on approximately 90,000 interviews with adult Americans.

Quarterly Average Percentages of U.S. Adults Without Health Insurance, 2008-2009

The percentage uninsured jumped the most between the third and fourth quarters of 2008, coincident with the onset of the financial crisis. The first three quarters of this year have seen a further increase, with percentages holding fairly steady between 16.1% and 16.3%.

With a number of competing healthcare bills on the table, a primary point of contention continues to be how and to what extent the government should work to expand coverage to the millions of uninsured. While there has been some fluctuation in the estimated percentage of uninsured in 2009, the ranks of the uninsured have clearly remained higher compared to last year. Gallup continues to ask about health insurance on a daily basis as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which provides the most up-to-date estimate available of the percentage uninsured, and will monitor it and report on changes in the months ahead.

To read about President Obama's use of Gallup's uninsured figure, check out Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport's blog Polling Matters.

Survey Methods

For the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Gallup is interviewing no fewer than 1,000 U.S. adults nationwide each day. Monthly results consist of roughly 30,000 interviews. For results based on these samples, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones and cellular phones.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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