Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released new health insurance data, which show a staggering increase in the number of uninsured women in the U.S.—In 2009, nearly 20 percent of women ages 18-64 lacked coverage (we exclude women 65 and over from our estimates, since nearly all are covered by the federal Medicare program). That’s one in five women without health insurance! The numbers have never looked so bad.

The increase in uninsurance is attributed to a significant decline in private insurance, particularly job-based coverage. This is no surprise, given the number of families that experienced unemployment in 2009—in many cases, losing a job also means losing health insurance benefits. Last year, over 6.5 million fewer people had job-based coverage. The proportion of women ages 18-64 with this type of insurance fell from 64 percent to 61 percent from 2008 to 2009. Public health insurance programs, like Medicaid, provided a safety-net for many women (an additional 1.2 million women had public health insurance in 2009); without these critical programs, women’s uninsured rates would be considerably worse.

These numbers are dismal for sure, but things will only get better from here. Relief has already come for some women, and is on the way for millions more. The new health care law (the Affordable Care Act or ACA) promises to dramatically reduce the number of uninsured women in the coming years. For example, tens of thousands of uninsured women with pre-existing conditions will gain coverage over the next three years through new “Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans” that are already available in every state. Starting next week, dependents will be able to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26—an estimated 650,000 uninsured young people are expected to gain coverage this way in 2011. And these are only the most immediate changes. By 2014, when all of the law’s provisions go into effect, nearly all women without coverage will have access to Medicaid or new federal tax credits that make health insurance more affordable. According to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, 32 million Americans will have secured health insurance coverage by 2019.

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