A steady, nearly decade-long increase in the number of Utahns without health insurance might be topping out, estimates released Wednesday by the state Department of Health indicate.

A 1.3 percent dip in the rate of uninsured residents — 287,200 in 2007 compared to 306,000 in 2006 — might not mean the trend has been broken, but the first measurable decline in the uninsured rate in years is big news to government officials.

The figures are estimates based on the department's annual and reliable statewide household telephone survey measuring health-insurance status and health-care access.

According to the survey, Utahns who are low-income, don't have a high school diploma, are self-employed, Hispanic or between the ages of 18 and 34 are most likely to be uninsured.

The state still has a lot of work to do to make it possible for all Utahns to have health insurance, but the numbers are an encouraging indicator that the state is headed in the right direction, said Dr. David Sundwall, health department executive director.

The numbers also got the state's multifaceted, multiyear health-care system reform effort off on the right foot, coming on the day that Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed into law five bills that form the framework of reform.

Over the past decade, Utah's uninsured population grew at an average annual rate of 6.9 percent — three times the rate of the state's overall 2.3 percent annual population growth, according to the health department figures.

Of the 287,200 uninsured, 85,000 have incomes below the federal poverty level, more than 100,000 are employed full time and more than 53,000 are self-employed.

A vast majority of Utahns — 79.5 percent — continue to be covered by a medical insurance plan offered through their workplace, basically the same percentage as in 2006.

Utah's nation-leading status as the state with the highest rate of employers who have dropped offering medical insurance benefits appears in the department's survey: 37.9 percent of the people reporting that they had no medical insurance said their employer dropped coverage. That's a 4.4 percent increase over 2006.

E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com