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More Americans Experiencing Gaps in Health Coverage
Date:4/22/2009

Further erosion of private insurance could boost the ranks of the uninsured

WEDNESDAY, April 22 (HealthDay News) -- The number of Americans going without health insurance for a period of time is greater today than it was two decades ago, a new survey has found.

These gaps in coverage, however, are shorter than they used to be because people are getting insurance through public programs, such as Medicaid.

"The bad news is the continuing reduction of private health insurance," said a co-author of the survey, David Cutler, an applied economics professor at Harvard University and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, both in Cambridge, Mass. "It's like a one-way revolving door. And it isn't just the poor who are losing coverage; it's everyone."

"The good news is that government has, in fits and starts, stepped in to provide some help," added Cutler, who was an adviser to Barack Obama during the presidential campaign. "Without government insurance expansions, we would be facing a huge disaster."

The survey results are in the April 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

An estimated 45.7 million Americans were uninsured in 2007, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That's down from 47 million in 2006, due in part to an increase in the number of people enrolled in government health programs.

From 2006 to 2007, the number of people covered by government health insurance rose to 83 million, up from 80.3 million, the Census Bureau reported. Meanwhile, the percentage of people with private health insurance slipped to 67.5 percent from 67.9 percent.

Cutler's analysis assesses changes in health insurance coverage over time by comparing two four-year periods: 1983 though 1986 and 2001 though 2004. The findings do not reflect the current recession, which has resulted in significant job losses.

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