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Number of Uninsured in U.S. Rises as Workers Lose Jobs and Health Insurance

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People give their medical history to nurses during a free health clinic at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on October 20, 2011 in California.
People give their medical history to nurses during a free health clinic at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on October 20, 2011 in California.

More Americans went without health coverage last year as unemployment remained high and even those who kept their jobs lost health insurance benefits because of rising costs, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday.

The poor economy and rising health care costs are weakening the job-based health insurance system that is the most common source of coverage for Americans. Last year, the percentage of people with workplace health benefits fell to 44.6 percent from 45.8 percent in 2010. The proportion has declined each year since 2008, when Gallup first began tracking the data. Job-based health insurance coverage declined last year for full-time part-time, and self-employed workers, the survey says.

The ranks of the uninsured also have risen overall for four straight years. Gallup reported last month that 17.1 percent of Americans have no health insurance, up from 16.8 percent in 2010.

Joblessness, lower incomes and the cost of health care are to blame, according to Gallup.

Two factors appear to be driving up the percentage of uninsured Americans. First, more Americans were unemployed or underemployed in 2011 than in 2008. Second, fewer employees had health insurance from their employer, which may be because employers no longer offered it or the cost was too high for employees to afford.

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