The number of Americans without health insurance in 2002 rose to 43.6 million, or about 15 percent of the population, as an additional 2.4 million people lost coverage due to unemployment and employer cutbacks in coverage. The percentage of the uninsured was still lower than the recent peak in 1998, when 16.3 percent of U.S. residents were uninsured, according to Census Bureau data.

The loss of health insurance reflects unabated increases in healthcare costs. Healthcare spending per privately insured person increased 9.6 percent in 2002, four times faster than the pace of overall inflation, according to a recent study by the Center For Studying Health System Change, a Washington, D.C.-based research group. This rise is actually down slightly from the ten-percent increase of the year before.

As employers shift some of the insurance costs to employees, some are choosing to go without coverage. This choice was reflected in the fact that young workers between the ages of 18 and 24 were far less likely to have health insurance, with just 70.4 percent covered in 2002.

The number of full-time workers without health insurance rose by almost 900,000, to 19.9 million.

In a related story, Americans who receive health insurance through their employers have dropped to fewer than one-half of all workers from about two-thirds a decade ago, according to a report on the nation's health coverage by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Health specialists said the decline in employer-sponsored health coverage stems from those soaring insurance premiums and the inability of workers and small employers to afford the increasingly costly coverage.

Another factor: Manufacturing employment has dropped steadily, and there has been a rise in the percentage of workers employed by service companies, which are less likely to offer health coverage.

The study found 45 percent of U.S. employees have health insurance at work, down from 63 percent in 1993. The average premium paid by an employee for a single plan went from $34.09 per month in 1993 to $60.24 today, the bureau said. For a family plan, an employee's share of the monthly premium rose from $130.65 to $228.98 over the same period.