KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Census Bureau: Recession Fuels Record Number Of Uninsured Americans

CNN: "The number of people with health insurance in the United States dropped for the first time in 23 years, the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday." According to the Census report, 253.6 million people had health insurance in 2009 - down from 255.1 million the previous year. Meanwhile, the "percentage of people without health insurance increased to 16.7 percent ... Between 2008 and 2009, the number of people covered by private health insurance decreased to 194.5 million from 201.0 million." Also, the number of Americans with government coverage such as Medicare and Medicaid "climbed to 93.2 million from from 87.4 million" (Kavilanz, 9/16).

Kaiser Health News: "Nearly every demographic and geographic group posted a rise in the uninsured rate - with the exception of children, who remained stable at about 10 percent. The sharpest jumps were in the Midwest and South, although all areas of the country saw increases. "In a word this is devastating," said Jonathan Oberlander, professor of social medicine and health policy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill" (Galewitz and Villegas, 9/16). 

The Associated Press: The increase in people without insurance is mostly attributed to "the loss of employer-provided insurance during the recession. Congress passed a health overhaul this year to address rising numbers of the uninsured, but the main provisions will not take effect until 2014" (Yen, 9/16).

Congress Daily: "David Johnson, a senior Census Bureau official, said that while the agency did not analyze why coverage dropped significantly over the last year, the data showed that a loss of coverage could be tied to increasing number of unemployed people losing employer coverage. The data also found that the majority of the uninsured in America have a household income under $25,000. The number of uninsured at this income level, 26.6 percent of the country, grew 2 percentage points since 2008. The middle class was not immune, either. Of the 4.3 million newly uninsured, half have incomes of more than $50,000" (McCarthy, 9/16).

Bloomberg Businessweek: Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a health consumer advocacy group that supported Obama's law, said Wednesday that the recession has "eroded private insurance coverage as millions of Americans lost their jobs. ... 'When people lose jobs, it makes enormous sense to expect that the number of people without health insurance will increase'" (Wayne, 9/16). 

McClatchy: "Were it not for federal intervention in the form of extended unemployment insurance benefits, 3.3 million more people would have fallen into poverty last year, said David Johnson, the chief of the Census Bureau's division on housing and household economics" (Pugh, 9/16).

Reuters: "The data show that the impact of the economic downturn hit people at lower income levels the hardest, and many more would have fallen into poverty but for the additional unemployment payments approved by Congress, Census spokesman Stanley Rolark told reporters" (Smith, 9/16).

The Christian Science Monitor: "At the same time the survey was being taken, Congress passed President Obama's contentious health-care reform law" (Scherer, 9/16).

NPR Shots Health Blog: "As Congress debated health overhaul last year, a big part of the discussion was exactly how big a problem the uninsured are. Well, the latest data are pretty grim. ...  Now that health overhaul is law, Americans will have to get covered or pay a penalty, starting in 2014. Unless legal challenges to the insurance mandate prevail. By 2019, the law is expected to extend coverage to some 32 million Americans who wouldn't otherwise have it" (Wyckoff, 9/16).

USA Today: Because of this period of time before the law's changes fully kick in, though, experts say the problem could get worse in the next few years before it gets better. "'Eventually, more people will be covered if everything goes the way it should...,' says Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, which represents large employers. 'But that's four years away, and there's going to be a lot of financial pain and economic burden before 2014.'" Meanwhile, the "increase in the uninsured population had been expected as employers continue to shed jobs." Low-income households were three times as likely to be uninsured as those with incomes above $75,000 (Wolf, 9/17).

The Wall Street Journal: "The figures released Thursday provide fresh evidence about the negative effects of the economic downturn on health-insurance coverage. And they could become a political talking point in the debate over the health-care overhaul in the run-up to the midterm elections." But the Journal also notes that the new uninsured numbers could be somewhat "controversial. The 50.7 million uninsured Americans-16.7% of the population-likely include some who could afford coverage but choose not to buy it, or people who could qualify for government assistance but haven't done so. The Employment Policies Institute, a right-leaning research organization, said the numbers don't present a complete picture" (Johnson, 9/17).

The New York Times: "The share of children who were uninsured fell, though, reflecting an expansion of government health programs covering low-income children" (Eckholm, 9/16).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: In Georgia, the repercussions of the reality behind these new uninsured numbers are widespread. "Sick patients without insurance have difficulty getting care. Hospitals are treating more charity cases in their emergency rooms. And businesses are facing dramatically higher costs to provide insurance to their employees, as hospitals charge paying patients more to try to cover their losses. 'Hospitals are losing millions of dollars treating uninsured patients in the emergency room,' said Kevin Bloye, a spokesman for the Georgia Hospital Association. 'There's got to be some way to recoup those costs and allow hospitals to keep their doors open. The only way they're able to do that is to shift those costs to the people with health insurance'" (Teegardin, 9/16). 

Click here to read the Census Bureau's summary of key findings or to access the full report, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009."

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