Number Of Uninsured US Residents Decreased

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The number and percentage of uninsured U.S. residents declined in 2007 to 45.7 million people, or 15.3% of the population, according to an annual U.S. Census Bureau report released Tuesday, USA Today reports (Cauchon/Appleby, USA Today, 8/27). In 2006, 47 million people were uninsured, or 15.8% of the population (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Kansas City Star, 8/26). For the report, researchers analyzed data from the Current Population Survey of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. (U.S. Census Bureau release, 8/26). The survey found that:

* The number of people with health insurance increased to 253.4 million in 2007 from 249.8 million in 2006 (Little, Chicago Tribune, 8/27);

* 11%, or 8.1 million, of U.S. children younger than age 18 were uninsured, down from 11.7%, or 8.7 million, in 2006 (Dunham, Reuters, 8/26);

* The proportion of people with private coverage dropped to 67.5% from 67.9%;

* The proportion of people with employer-sponsored coverage fell to 59.3% in 2007 from 59.7% in 2006, although the number of people with employer-based insurance was not statistically different from 2006 (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 8/27);

* The proportion of people with any type of public coverage grew to 27.8% from 27.0% in 2006;

* Uninsurance rates differed by race, with 32.1% of Hispanics uninsured in 2007, down from 34.1% in 2006, remaining the group with the highest percentage of uninsured. Uninsurance rates for blacks decreased from 20.5% to 19.5% during the period. The rate for whites declined from 10.8% to 10.4%, and the rate for Asian-Americans was up from 15.5% in 2006 to 16.8% in 2007 (New York Times graphic, 8/27);

* Massachusetts ranked first overall among states in the proportion of residents with health coverage, with 92.1% covered (Smith, Boston Globe, 8/27); and

* Texas ranked last among states with 24.4% of residents having no health coverage (Urbina, New York Times, 8/27).

Government-Sponsored Programs

Census officials attributed the drop in uninsured people to an increase in the number of children -- particularly the number of low-income children -- enrolled in government-sponsored health insurance programs, such as SCHIP and Medicaid (Los Angeles Times, 8/27). The increase in the percentage of people covered through government-sponsored programs more than offset the drop in the proportion of people with private coverage, notably those with employer-based insurance, according to David Johnson, chief of the Census Bureau's Housing and Household Economic Statistics division (Knight, Dow Jones, 8/26).

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Overall the number of people enrolled in government-sponsored health programs increased to 83 million in 2007 from 80.3 million in 2006. The number of people enrolled in Medicaid increased from 38.3 million to 39.6 million in 2007 (Los Angeles Times, 8/27). An additional one million U.S. residents enrolled in Medicare last year, and the federal government's military health care programs covered 400,000 more people in 2007 than in 2006 (Dougherty/Zhang, Wall Street Journal, 8/27).

Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and executive director of the Foundation's Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, said, "In 2007, at least 26 states made efforts to expand coverage, but as the economy has turned downward so have state efforts." She added that insurance premiums have been rising faster than wages and inflation, causing many people to seek coverage through government-sponsored programs. The report also found the median income of working-age households was $2,010 lower than its 2000 level and insignificant when adjusted for inflation (New York Times, 8/27).

Presidential Candidates' Comments

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) said the report "reminds us that Americans are suffering in a struggling economy. Too many of our neighbors are living in poverty ... and too many are living without health insurance" (Wall Street Journal, 8/27).

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) said, "Today's news confirms what America's struggling families already know -- that over the past seven years, our economy has moved backwards" (USA Today, 8/27). In a statement Obama said that "an additional 7.2 million Americans have fallen into the ranks of the uninsured. This is the failed record of George Bush's economic policies that Sen. McCain has called 'great progress'" (Young, The Hill, 8/26).

Comments

Bruce Lesley, president of the children's advocacy group First Focus, said, "While this decline is a temporary victory for kids, we fear next year's data will paint a worse picture for America's children than ever before, as the effects of a sluggish economy will be coupled with the inability of Congress to pass renewal of [SCHIP] over President Bush's two vetoes" (Los Angeles Times, 8/27).

Peter Cunningham, a senior fellow at the Center for Studying Health System Change, said public health insurance programs "are expensive, and when tax revenues fall [it] is going to be harder to keep them up" (Dow Jones, 8/26). Paul Fronstin, director of the health research and education program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, said that the decrease does not reflect "what's going on right now," adding, "We have a much weaker economy than a year ago, much higher inflation. Very unlikely that this trend will continue into 2008" (Vitez, Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/27).

Kevin Hayden, WellPoint head of government contracting, said that the shift toward government programs presented "an opportunity for the private sector and the government to work together," and that expanding government-sponsored programs provides options for people who do not have access to employer-sponsored coverage or cannot afford quality health care.

Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, said the "modest decline" does not "reduce the urgency of the crisis." She said that the private health insurance industry has made several proposals over the past two years intended to provide coverage for the uninsured, improve quality and contain costs -- including expanding government programs for low-income and chronically ill patients (Los Angeles Times, 8/27).

Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis said, "States such as Massachusetts have also played an important role in stemming the rising tide of uninsured, and thanks to their health reform law, they now have one of the lowest uninsured rates," adding, "But 45.7 million uninsured people are far too many, and we need a national solution to this crisis" (New York Times, 8/27).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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