Slightly more than 1 in 10 Americans have no health insurance, Gallup reports (search). That includes private health plans, Medicare (search), and Medicaid (search), says the polling company.

Medicaid and Medicare are government insurance programs (search). Medicaid pays for medical assistance for people with low incomes and resources. Medicare covers U.S. citizens who are aged 65 and older, along with some people under the age of 65 with disabilities.

Gallup conducted two health insurance surveys. The results are from data complied from information obtained in November 2003 and November 2004. More than 3,000 adults participated in the telephone interviews.

The survey showed that most adults (61 percent) had private health insurance (search) coverage. Another 28 percent were covered by Medicaid and Medicare. That left 11 percent with no health insurance safety net.

Gallup dug a little deeper for more details. Age, income, race, gender, and health status made a difference.

Youth’s Disadvantage

Young adults are often in better health than their elders. But if something goes wrong, they could be in financial trouble. Health insurance was scarcest among young adults. Of participants aged 18-29, 17 percent said they had absolutely no health insurance of any kind. While only 12 percent of adults aged 30-64 reported having no insurance.

Older generations fared better. It was much rarer for them go without health insurance. Less than 1 percent of those aged 65 or older said they totally lacked insurance.

Most middle-aged adults (30-64 years old) had private health insurance (nearly 80 percent). Virtually all senior citizens had Medicare or Medicaid coverage (98 percent). Insured young adults typically had private coverage (62 vs. 21 percent for Medicaid and Medicare).

Income’s Influence

Medicaid and Medicare were far more common among lower-income households. Those government programs were relied on by half of adults living in households earning less than $30,000 annually. Private insurance covered 33 percent of adults in this income group and 17 percent were uninsured.

In contrast, the richest participants usually had private health insurance. Of those earning at least $75,000 yearly, 87 percent had private health insurance, 9 percent were covered by Medicaid or Medicare, and 4 percent weren’t insured.

The middle class falls somewhere in between. Two out of three adults earning $30,000 -$75,000 per year had private health insurance, 24 percent were covered by Medicaid or Medicare, and 10 percent had no health insurance.

Black-White Differences

More whites than blacks had private health insurance (64 vs. 45 percent). Medicaid or Medicare coverage was more common among blacks than whites (44 vs. 26 percent). In fact, blacks were almost as likely to be covered by Medicaid or Medicare as private health plans.

Each group showed similar percentages of having no health insurance at all (10 percent of whites and 11 percent of blacks).

Gender Gap

More men than women had private health insurance (64 vs. 59 percent). More women than men used Medicaid or Medicare (32 vs. 24 percent).

Age might partly explain that. The survey included more women than men over age 65, the age group targeted by Medicare.

Health’s Impact

Most participants didn’t report major health problems. However, 21 percent said they had a physical disability and 31 percent cited a “long-term medical condition.”

More than half of physically disabled participants (57 percent) relied on Medicaid or Medicare. A third had private health insurance, and 10 percent had no coverage at all.

For those with long-term medical problems, private health insurance was about as common as Medicaid or Medicare (43 vs. 46 percent). Eleven percent completely lacked coverage.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCE: Gallup Poll News Service. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “Medicaid: A Brief Summary.” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “Medicare Information Resource.”