Last Updated: 2007-11-01 16:25:16 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The number of Americans lacking health insurance rose by nearly 8.6 million to 47 million from 2000 to 2006, with children and workers from every income level losing coverage, a new report said on Thursday.

The increase was "driven primarily by the continued erosion in employer-provided health insurance," said the report by the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute.

In 2006, 2.3 million fewer Americans received health benefits from their employers than in 2000, the report said, noting the decline does not take the population increase into account.

Nearly 60 percent of the nation’s children are covered by the insurance provided by their parents’ employers, but 3.4 million fewer children had benefits in 2006 compared with 2000.

"Public health insurance is no longer offsetting these losses," said the report by the nonpartisan think-tank.

For jobholders, this was the sixth straight year of declines in health insurance coverage. The rate fell to just below 71 percent from nearly 75 percent in 2000.

"No category of workers was insulated from loss of coverage," as even workers whose earnings placed them in the top quintile saw coverage rates fall, the report said.

More men lost employer-provided health benefits than women. For men, the rate fell by almost 5 percentage points in the six-year period to 69 percent. For women, the rate fell just under 3 percentage points to nearly 73 percent.

Native Americans had the highest rates of insurance coverage from employers at almost 74 percent, though that was a drop of 3.5 percentage points. The rate for people born in other countries just topped 54 percent in 2006, 4.4 percentage points less than in 2000.

Whites had the highest rates of employer-provided health insurance, at 76.4 percent, though that was off 3.3 percentage points in the six-year period.

For blacks, the overall rate was nearly 66 percent, but off 2.6 percentage points from 2000. Hispanics had only a 48.4 percent rate of coverage, down 5 percentage points.

White-collar workers saw their coverage rates fall 3.5 percentage points to 61.4 percent. The drop for blue-collar workers was steeper, down 5.6 percentage points to 53.4 percent from 2000 to 2006.

The service sector’s rate fell 5 percentage points — and its employer-provided coverage rate was much lower at just under 29 percent.

Among the states, only Hawaii saw an increase in the percentage of its population under 65 years old who had employer-provided health insurance, up 0.5 percentage point to just over 71 percent in the survey period.

"The decline in employer coverage was pervasive and felt throughout the country," the report said.

Thirty-eight states saw "significant" drops in benefits provided by employers for people younger than 65, the report said. Utah, South Carolina, Maryland and Georgia all saw rates drop by at least 7 percentage points.

Meanwhile, in California "nearly all of the losses in employment-based coverage occurred among children," the report said, noting 600,000 fewer children had such benefits in 2006 compared with 2000.