25% of adults in U.S. lack health insurance

WASHINGTON — With the future of the health care law emerging as a major campaign issue this fall, a new survey has found that more than a quarter of adults ages 19 to 64 in the United States lacked health insurance for at least some time in 2011.

And the vast majority of those people, nearly 70 percent, had been without coverage for more than a year, according to the study by the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund, a leading authority on health policy.

The holes in health insurance were a driving force in President Barack Obama’s push for the controversial health care overhaul he signed in 2010. Close to 50 million people in the country now lack coverage, a number that has been rising as employers eliminate jobs or cut back health benefits.

Research, including the Commonwealth Fund survey, indicates that people without health insurance often skip needed medical care and do not get vital preventive services such as cancer screenings.

According to the survey, 74 percent of women ages 40 to 64 with health insurance had received a mammogram in the previous two years. In contrast, just 28 percent of women in that age group who had been without insurance for a year or more received a mammogram.

The health care law is slated to guarantee coverage to all Americans starting in 2014, when insurance companies will no longer be allowed to exclude people with pre-existing medical conditions and low- and moderate-income Americans will be able to get subsidies to help buy a health plan.

The Commonwealth Fund study predicted that the coverage gaps would be reduced as a result of the new law.

But it is unclear whether the coverage expansion will ever happen.

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a constitutional challenge to the law. And former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has pledged to repeal the law if he is elected president in November.

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