In the midst of continued political debate over universal health care, the U.S. Census Bureau says the number of individuals without health care insurance continued to increase in 2006.

The percentage without health insurance increased from 15.3% in 2005 to 15.8% in 2006, and the number of uninsured rose from 44.8 million to 47 million, the bureau reveals in a new report.

The number of U.S.-born residents who were uninsured increased from 33 million to 34.4 million in the period, while the uninsured rate increased from 12.8% to 13.2%.

The total of uninsured foreign-born rose from 11.8 million to 12.6 million, but their rate was statistically unchanged at 33.8% in 2006, the report shows.

Looking at ethnic differences, the bureau found that among non-Hispanic whites, the number of uninsured remained statistically unchanged in 2006 at 21.2 million or 10.8%.

For blacks, the number and percentage increased from 7 million and 19% in 2005 to 7.6 million and 20.5%. The figures for uninsured Hispanics rose from 14 million (32.3%) in 2005 to 15.3 million (34.1%).

The number of uninsured Asians remained statistically unchanged, at 2 million in 2006, while their uninsured rate declined to 15.5% from 17.2% in 2005.

Regionally, the Midwest had the lowest uninsured rate in 2006, at 11.4%, followed by the Northeast (12.3%), the West (17.9%) and the South (19%). Increases in uninsured rates occurred in the Northeast and South, where uninsured rates for 2005 rates had been 11.7% and 18%, respectively.

Among states, Texas had the highest percentage of uninsured using a 3-year average, with 24.1% lacking health insurance. The rates for Minnesota (8.5%), Hawaii (8.6%), Iowa (9.3%), Wisconsin (9.4%) and Maine (9.5%) were lowest.

Of particular significance to the debate over the proposed State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) legislation, figures for uninsured children rose from 8 million (10.9%) in 2005 to 8.7 million (11.7%) in 2006, according to the bureau’s report.

Commenting on the data, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, N.J. called for bipartisan cooperation in renewing SCHIP.

“We need to safeguard the program and strengthen it so that more children who are already eligible for SCHIP can get covered,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive of the foundation. “The alternative is to divide our children further into those who get a fair chance at a healthy life and those who don’t.”