Number Of Uninsured US Residents Increases By 2.2M

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The number of uninsured U.S. residents grew by 2.2 million in 2006to 47 million, up from 44.8 million in 2005, according to data releasedon Tuesday by the Census Bureau, USA Today reports (Appleby, USA Today,8/29). To compile the data, the Census Bureau collected informationabout the health insurance status of 300,000 individuals (Lopes, Washington Times, 8/29). The percentage of the U.S. population that was uninsured rose to 15.8% in 2006, up from 15.3% in 2005 (USA Today, 8/29). The survey also found that:

  • 58.7% of the uninsured worked either full- or part-time during 2006;
  • Adults ages 18 to 34 comprise the largest portion of the uninsured at 40.4% of those without coverage;
  • 73.2% of the uninsured were U.S. citizens;
  • Ofthe uninsured, 62% live in households with annual incomes less than$50,000, and of that group, more than half live in households withannual incomes between $25,000 and $50,000;
  • 18.1% of the uninsured lived in households with annual incomes between $50,000 and $74,999 (Armstrong, CQ Today, 8/29);
  • 8.5% of the uninsured in 2006 lived in households with annual incomes greater than $75,000, up from 7.7% in 2005;
  • 19.3% of children in families with annual incomes below the federal poverty level are uninsured (USA Today, 8/29);
  • 11.7%of children lacked health insurance in 2006, up from 10.9% in 2005. Thepercentage of children who are uninsured has increased two years in arow after five years of decline (Aizenman/Lee, Washington Post, 8/29);
  • Uninsurancerates differed by race, with 34.1%, or 15.3 million, of Hispanicsuninsured in 2006. Uninsurance rates for blacks increased from 19% in2005 to 20.5% in 2006, up from 32.3% in 2005. The rate for whites wasstatistically unchanged at 10.8% in 2006, while the rate forAsian-Americans dropped from 17.2% in 2005 to 15.5% in 2006;
  • An additional 1.3 million full- or part-time workers were uninsured in 2006, compared with 2005;
  • Theuninsurance rate for documented immigrants remained statisticallyunchanged at 16.4%, while the uninsured rate for undocumentedimmigrants increased from 43.1% to 45% (USA Today, 8/29);
  • Texas in 2006 had the highest percentage of uninsured residents at 24.1% and Minnesota had the lowest at 8.5%;
  • The percentage of individuals with government-sponsored health care declined from 27.3% in 2005 to 27% in 2006 (Goodnough, New York Times, 8/29); and
  • The number of people with health insurance increased to 249.8 million in 2006, up from 249 million in 2005 (U.S. Census Bureau report highlights, 8/29).

Employer-Sponsored Coverage

Census officials largely attributed the increase in the number ofuninsured residents to continuing declines in employer-sponsored healthcare. The percentage of people covered through employers declined from60.2% in 2005 to 59.7% in 2006, according to the data (Washington Post, 8/29). Douglas Besharov, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,said that employers are struggling with the rising costs of providinghealth care to employees. Besharov said, "Employers are really feelinga bite here, and so as much as possible, they're trying to limit theseincreases and push them onto the employees. That means a lot of peopledrop their coverage" (New York Times, 8/29).

Somehealth care consultants attribute the declines to employees opting outof employer-sponsored health insurance, according to the Washington Times.The consultants say that while this report does not account for whyindividuals lost insurance coverage, previous data have shown thatindividuals are finding it difficult to afford their employers'coverage.

Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health,said, "The overall costs to workers are driving the uninsured problem.Some people are able to cover themselves but they cannot cover theirchildren. People's incomes are not keeping up with health care costs."A survey released last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research and Educational Trust found that worker premiums in 2006 increased by 7.7%, while wages increased by 3.8% (Washington Times, 8/29).

Inaddition, Medicaid and SCHIP in the last two years "could not keep upwith the steady national decline" of employer-sponsored healthinsurance, according to the Boston Globe. Leighton Ku, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,said, "For many years, Medicaid and SCHIP were growing at a fast enoughrate to more than offset the falling numbers of people onemployee-sponsored health care, but not in the last two years," addingthat the programs "failed to provide the same effectiveness inprotecting children's health insurance" (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 8/29).

Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute,said, "While the employer-based system slowly unravels, the publicsystem isn't quite stepping up to the plate to pick up the slack, andtherein lies the problem" (New York Times, 8/29).

Lawmaker Response

The Census figures "stirred debate" among lawmakers and the White House over the future of SCHIP, according to the Washington Post. House Energy and Commerce Health SubcommitteeChair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said he is "particularly troubled" by therise in the number of uninsured children for the past two years.Pallone said, "Clearly, these disturbing increases over the last twoyears demonstrate a need to strengthen" SCHIP, adding, "I hope thesesobering statistics will serve as a wake-up call to President Bush toreconsider his veto threat" of legislation to reauthorize and expandthe program (Washington Post, 8/29).

House SpeakerNancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "The new Census report illustrates whyCongress needs to immediately pass legislation to strengthen ... SCHIPto ensure that more of America's children have health insurance"(Armstrong, CQ Today, 8/28).

Sen. John Kerry(D-Mass.) said, "Today's news serves as even more evidence thatprograms like SCHIP must be fully funded and extended to the growingnumbers of uninsured Americans" (Boston Globe, 8/29).

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House Energy and Commerce CommitteeChair John Dingell (D-Mich.) said, "The findings released todayreinforce why health care initiatives such as" SCHIP "are critical,"adding, "It's my hope that the administration will take today's reportseriously, put partisanship aside and work with the Congress to protectthe health of our children" (Washington Times, 8/29).

Presidential Candidates' Comments

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) called the statistics a "betrayal of the ideals with hold as Americans" (Reddy, Wall Street Journal, 8/29).

Presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton(D-N.Y.) said, "When I began the fight for universal coverage almost 15years ago, there were 37 million people uninsured," adding, "It was anoutrage then and with 10 million more people uninsured today, it is aneven deeper outrage today. Yet, the uninsured have been invisible tothis president" (Boston Globe, 8/29).

Bush Administration Response

Bush acknowledged that "challenges remain" in reducing the number of uninsured residents (Washington Post,8/29). Bush, citing his proposed tax breaks for individual healthinsurance, said that "containing costs and making health insurance moreaffordable is the best way to reverse this long-term trend" (Wall Street Journal, 8/29).

WhiteHouse spokesperson Tony Fratto said, "The Census Bureau numbers showwhy it is crucially important to reform the health system in a way thatallows Americans to purchase their own health insurance" (Washington Times, 8/29).

Other Comments

Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and executive director of the foundation's Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured,said, "I think the bad news from the statistics today is that when theeconomy is doing fairly well, we're still seeing a continued erosion inthe ability of working families to get health coverage through theworkplace, which places more and more people at risk of beinguninsured" (Pugh, McClatchy/Memphis Commercial Appeal, 8/29).

Stephanie Woolhandler, a professor at Harvard Medical School,said, "This is about the problem of the uninsured spreading to themiddle class and working people," adding, "That's the thing that'semerging newly this time" (Washington Post, 8/29).

Jonathan Gruber, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, "Now is absolutely not the time to be nitpicking about children's health insurance" (Gosselin/Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 8/28).

David Knowlton, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute,said, "The health care system in the United States is broken," adding,"It's interesting that I think every citizen knows that. We've got toget the decision makers to see that" (Burling, Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/29).

Evelyn Brodkin, a political scientist at the University of Chicago,said because health care affects middle-class residents as well asbusinesses, it is an issue that will get more attention in the 2008presidential campaigns (Ohlemacher, AP/Houston Chronicle, 8/28).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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