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Record Number of Americans Lack Health Insurance

Federal report cites drop in employer-sponsored coverage

TUESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- A record number of Americans are without health insurance, according to new U.S. Census Bureau statistics released Tuesday.

Some of the trend can be explained by employers who are curtailing coverage or making it too costly for lower income workers to afford, the report said.

"The number of people without health insurance coverage increased from 44.8 million in 2005 to 47 million in 2006," David S. Johnson, chief of the bureau's Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, said during a teleconference Tuesday.

The percentage of Americans without health insurance rose to 15.8 percent in 2006 from 15.3 percent in 2005, Johnson added. "This is the second consecutive year of increase," he said.

At the same time, the number of people with health insurance increased to 249.8 million in 2006, from 249 million in 2005. The number of Americans covered by private health insurance and government insurance remained about the same, according to the report, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2006.

The problems of the uninsured are particularly acute among children. The percent and the number of children under 18 without health insurance increased to 11.7 percent from 10.9 percent from 2005 to 2006, and to 8.7 million from 8 million, respectively.

"The number of children covered by private insurance decreased from 65.8 percent in 2005 to 64.6 percent in 2006," Johnson said. "The increase in the uninsured rate can be attributed to the decline in private coverage."

Moreover, 19.3 percent of children in poverty had no health insurance.

The percentage of people covered by private employer or privately purchased insurance declined only slightly, from 68.5 percent in 2005 to 67.9 percent in 2006, Johnson said. "Persons covered by government-provided health insurance declined from 27.3 percent in 2005 to 27 percent in 2006," he added.

The percentage of people covered by employer health insurance plans dropped to 59.7 percent in 2006, from 60.2 percent in 2005.

There was no change in the number of people covered by Medicaid, the federal insurance program for low-income people -- 38.3 million.

Uninsured rates for whites remained constant at 10.8 percent but rose among blacks -- from 19 percent in 2005 to 20.5 percent in 2006. The percentage and the number of uninsured Hispanics increased to 34.1 percent and 15.3 million in 2006.

Commenting on the report, Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, said the increase in the number of uninsured Americans was surprising, given the relatively low unemployment rates and a stable economy. She said she fears a dramatic increase in the number of people without health insurance should the economy weaken.

"It's a surprising jump in the numbers of uninsured," Davis said. "To get a 2.2 million hike in one year is pretty disturbing. We are getting a middle-class squeeze -- it's not just families in poverty."

Davis added that employers were dropping coverage of dependents. "It really varies by the income of the family," she said. "Either employers aren't covering the kids, or the premium share is too high for families to afford."

There is urgency in getting people -- especially children -- covered, Davis added. "We need to get more comprehensive solutions on the table," she said. "There is a case for action to deal with uninsured children, and we need a comprehensive strategy that insures health insurance for all."

Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy at the consumer advocacy group Families USA, also expressed shocked at the rise in the number of uninsured Americans.

"The numbers took my breath away," Stoll said. "The increase is more dramatic than we've seen."

Stoll thinks the report will spur the debate over health care and serve as a catalyst for some form of universal health insurance.

"When you consider how large this increase is, I would think this would build momentum, feed the fire for the health care reform debate that we hope we will see in 2009 under leadership from the White House and the Congress," she said.

Gail Shearer, health policy director at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, said Congress and the Bush administration should immediately "rededicate" themselves to expanding health insurance coverage.

"This substantial increase in the uninsured should get everyone's attention," she added in a prepared statement. "We should not have to wait until the next president takes office to deal with this very real problem. Congress and the President ought to commit to expanding coverage now."

The American Medical Association also said the new numbers on uninsured Americans demand legislative action.

"Today's announcement on the increase in the number of uninsured Americans is a forceful reminder that action is desperately needed. Currently, 47 million Americans, including nearly nine million children, don't have health insurance coverage," AMA board member Dr. Joseph Heyman said in a prepared statement.

"It is unconscionable that the number of uninsured children has substantially increased over the past year. Children are our future, and for kids to get a good start in life, they need access to regular visits to the doctor," he added.

"Covering America's kids is the first step toward covering all Americans. The AMA just launched a three-year, multi-million dollar campaign called "Voice For The Uninsured" to spur action to cover the uninsured," Heyman said.

More information

For more on health insurance, visit the Commonwealth Fund.

SOURCES: Aug. 28, 2007, teleconference with David Johnson, chief, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, U.S. Census Bureau; Karen Davis, president Commonwealth Fund, New York City; Kathleen Stoll, director, health policy, Families USA, Washington, D.C.; Aug. 28, 2007, news release, Consumers Union, Washington, D.C.; Aug. 28, 2007, news release, American Medical Association, Washington, D.C.

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