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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One of President Obama's goals with revamping health care is to provide coverage for the millions of uninsured. There are an estimated 46 million Americans without health insurance in this country. NPR's April Fulton has this look at who they are.

APRIL FULTON: Forty-six million uninsured - it's a pretty scary number the president and Congressional leaders like to throw around.

President BARACK OBAMA: We are not a nation that accepts nearly 46 million uninsured men, women and children. We are not a nation…

Unidentified Man #1: Why don't we just look at the 46 million uninsured? This may help…

Unidentified Man #2: Forty-six million, that's a lot of people to be without insurance.

FULTON: It's the equivalent of an entire generation - Generation X, those of us who grew up on MTV and Ronald Reagan. It's the population of California and North Carolina combined, or it's roughly 15 percent of all Americans. The number of uninsured is based on the latest Census Bureau estimates. But Census only asks who was uninsured at any given time during the year, so the number is actually quite fluid.

Okay. So, who are they? Contrary to popular belief, most of the uninsured are from working families. They tend to be poorer and in worse health than those with insurance, says the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. And some 40 percent are young and don't buy insurance because they can't afford it or don't think they need it. Although the number of the uninsured has grown slowly in the last several years, it's speeding up.

Job loss is a major factor here, since most of us get our insurance through our jobs. Also, almost one in five of the uninsured are not citizens of the United States. About half of those - five million or so - are undocumented. Whether the undocumented should be included in expanding coverage will be part of the debate.

Now, out of that 46 million uninsured Americans, about a quarter of them are already eligible for existing health plans like Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, yet they don't sign up. If they did, they could knock a big chunk out of that scary 46 million number. But how to it? No one's really figured that out. So are there really 46 million uninsured Americans? Mm, it's the current best guess.

April Fulton, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: Find out what the health care overhaul could mean for you at npr.org/health.

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