Reports from the Economic Front

a blog by Marty Hart-Landsberg

Health Insurance Outrage

On Sept. 16, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report titled Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009.  Its findings on health insurance coverage deserve far more attention than they have received.

Before highlighting the report’s key findings, it is important to be clear about definitions.  According to the Census Bureau:

Private health insurance is a plan provided through an employer or a union or purchased by an individual from a private company.  Government health insurance includes such federal programs as Medicare, Medicaid, and military health care; the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); and individual state health plans. 

People were considered “insured” if they were covered by any type of health insurance for part or all of the previous calendar year. They were considered “uninsured” if, for the entire year, they were not covered by any type of health insurance.

Get that?  To be uninsured, a person had to be without any insurance for the entire year.

OK, here are the highlights

  • The number of people with health insurance fell from 255.1 million in 2008 to 253.6 million in 2009.  This is the first year (since the Census Bureau began collecting comparable health insurance data in 1987) that the number of people with health insurance actually decreased.  The percentage of people without health care coverage rose from 15.4 percent in 2008 to 16.7 percent in 2009.  To repeat—16.7 percent of the population went without health coverage for the entire year. 
  • The number of people covered by private health insurance fell from 201.0 million in 2008 to 194.5 million in 2009. The percentage of people covered by private insurance (63.9 percent) is the lowest since 1987. 
  • The number of people covered by employment-based health insurance fell from 176.3 million to 169.7 million.  The percentage of people covered by employment-based insurance (55.8 percent) is the lowest since 1987.
  • In contrast, the number of people covered by government health insurance rose from 87.4 million to 93.2 million.  The percentage of people covered by government health insurance programs (30.6 percent) is the highest since 1987.
  • The number of people with Medicaid coverage increased from 42.6 million to 47.8 million.  The percentage of people covered by Medicaid (15.7 percent) is the highest since 1987.

So, the heart of the problem is that the rise in public health insurance coverage could not make up for the decline in private coverage.  And the main reason for the decline in private coverage, which fell by 6.5 million, is that employment based coverage fell by 6.6 million.  

What a great health care system we have. 

You can read the full Census Bureau report here.

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