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The number of people without health insurance coverage in the U.S. climbed to 47 million last year from 44.8 million in 2005, according to a recently released report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The percentage of uninsured Americans increased slightly from 15.3% in 2005 to 15.8% last year.

These findings are in the “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2006” report. The data were compiled from information collected in the 2007 Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC), the agency noted.

The report drew mixed reaction from nonprofit groups with one organization pointing the blame at population growth and immigration and at least two others calling it a “travesty” and a “forceful reminder that action is desperately needed.”

The increase in the number of uninsured is largely due to population growth and immigration, according to an analysis of the latest Census data by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA; Dallas). The NCPA also found that the greatest growth in the uninsured continues to be among higher-income households.

“While it is true that the number of uninsured has grown, it is equally true that the number of people with insurance has continued to grow steadily,” said Devon Herrick, an NCPA senior fellow. “Whether it be cultural or a matter of economics; for a growing number of households being uninsured is a matter of choice.”

Last year, according to an NCPA review of newly released Census data, more than 84% — 250.4 million — U.S. residents were privately insured or enrolled in a government healthcare program, such as Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Also, nearly 18 million uninsured Americans live in households with annual incomes above $50,000, and could likely afford health insurance, according to the NCPA.

The organization also pointed to a recent BlueCross BlueShield Association report on the uninsured that estimated nearly 14 million adults and children qualified for government programs but did not enroll. By this count, nearly 10% of uninsured Americans theoretically have access to some form of insurance but have chosen to forgo it, the NCPA said.

But the American Public Health Association (APHA; Washington) paints a much grimmer picture.

“Tragically, our children share the burden,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the APHA.

The Census report found that the number of uninsured children in the U.S. rose from 8 million, or 10.9 %, in 2005 to 8.7 million, or 11.7%, in 2006.

“Access to healthcare is critical, especially for children. Children who are uninsured are more than three times less likely to have seen a doctor in the last year and have a higher incidence of preventable disease than insured children,” Benjamin said.

The American Medical Association (AMA; Washington) also reacted strongly to the Census report.

“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,” said Joseph Heyman, MD, an AMA board member.

The number and percentage of uninsured Hispanics increased from 14 million, or 32.3%, in 2005 to 15.3 million, or 34.1%. Meanwhile the number of uninsured, as well as the rate without health insurance, remained statistically unchanged in 2006 for non-Hispanic whites at 21.2 million, or 10.8%. For blacks, the number and percentage grew from 7 million in 2005 to 7.6 million and from 19% to 20.5%. The number of uninsured Asians remained statistically unchanged, at 2 million in 2006, while their uninsured rate actually declined to 15.5% from 17.2% in 2005, the report noted.

Based on a three-year average from 2004 to 2006, 31.4% of people who reported American Indian and Alaska Native as their race were without coverage, according to the report. The three-year average for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders was 21.7%.

The report also found that the Midwest had the lowest uninsured rate in 2006, at 11.4%, followed by the Northeast with 12.3%, the West with 17.9%, and the South at 19%. The Northeast and South experienced increases in their uninsured rates, the report noted, as the 2005 rates in those regions were 11.7% and 18%, respectively.

Rates for 2004 to 2006 using a three-year average show that Texas had the highest percentage of uninsured with 24.1%, while the rates for Minnesota, Hawaii, Iowa, Wisconsin and Maine were lower than the rates of the other 45 states and the District of Columbia. The rates for those five states were not statistically different from one another, the report said.

The report also looked at the numbers and rates of the uninsured based on nativity. Between 2005 and 2006, the number of U.S.-born residents who were uninsured rose from 33 million to 34.4 million, and their uninsured rate increased from 12.8% in 2005 to 13.2%. The numbers of foreign-born that were uninsured rose from 11.8 million in 2005 to 12.6 million, and their rate was statistically unchanged at 33.8% last year.

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