KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Americans Living With No Insurance, Or Less Insurance, During Recession

Decisions about forgoing care because of the cost for the long-term uninsured have been a way of life, "but for a sizable group, being without a job and insurance is a new, deeply distressing condition," The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.

"About half of those are the long-term uninsured, including those with jobs that simply don't offer insurance, said Len Nichols, a health economist who directs the health policy program for the New America Foundation. 'They're literally an underclass.' The number of Americans who went through 2008 without insurance probably won't be available until August or September, but Nichols estimated that the 45.7 million figure has now risen 'well into the 50s.'"

"'I would say in general, I've seen a huge number of people who have lost their medical insurance who are not coming in for a lot of conditions they would have in the past,' said Fred DeBoe, a family doctor for 26 years who works with the Aurora Medical Group. … The pressure of trying to survive without insurance or with high co-pays and deductibles appears to be affecting a great variety of health care decisions, changing the behaviors of both blue- and white-collar workers" (Johnson, 7/19).

In Canada, everyone is insured, but they have higher taxes, the St. Petersburg Times reports: "Canadians pay higher sales taxes - 13 percent in Ontario compared with 7 percent in Tampa - but all 33 million are entitled to hospital and physician services at government expense. No Canadian ever goes bankrupt because of medical bills. Across the border, where Americans are declaring bankruptcy in near-record numbers, 62 percent of filings are at least partly because of health care costs. Some 46 million have no insurance. Millions more are underinsured. And while the United States spends more per person on health care than any other country, Americans aren't even the world's healthiest. Canadians, Britons and residents of 27 other nations all live longer."

"Canadians freely admit that their system is not perfect, citing shortages of doctors in many places, often long waits for elective procedures like cataract surgery, too few nursing homes so the elderly often stay in hospitals far longer than they should, tying up beds. But Canadians say that everyone who needs care gets it. And they say their single-payer system - doctors bill one payer, the government - is inherently more efficient than the U.S. system, in which payment might come from Medicare, Medicaid or countless private insurance plans, none of which cover exactly the same services or pay exactly the same amounts" (Taylor Martin, 7/19).

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