By PNHP –
Official estimates by the Census Bureau showing a dramatic spike of 4.3 million in the number of Americans without health insurance in 2009 – to a record 50.7 million – underscore the urgency of going beyond the Obama administration’s new health law and swiftly implementing a single-payer, improved Medicare-for-all program, according to Physicians for a National Health Program, a 17,000-member physician group.
The Census Bureau reported that 16.7 percent of the population lacked health insurance coverage in 2009, up from 15.4 percent in 2008, when 46.3 million were uninsured.
Lack of health insurance is known to have deadly consequences. Last year researchers at Harvard Medical School showed that 45,000 deaths annually can be linked to lack of coverage.
“Tragically, we know that the new figures of uninsured mean a preventable annual death toll of about 51,000 people – that’s about one death every 11 minutes,” said Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of PNHP. Young is a Chicago-based retired physician whose private medical practice once counted President Obama among its patients.
Young said that even if the administration’s new health law works as planned, the Congressional Budget Office has projected about 50 million people will be uninsured for the next three years and about 23 million people will remain uninsured in 2019.
“Today’s report suggests those projections are likely too low,” he said.
The jump of 4.3 million uninsured is the largest one-year increase on record and would have been much higher – over 10 million – had there not been a huge expansion of public coverage, primarily Medicaid, to an additional 5.8 million people.
The rise in the number of uninsured was almost entirely due to a sharp decline in the number of people with employer-based coverage by 6.6 million. In 2009, 55.8 percent of the population had such coverage, having declined for the ninth consecutive year from 64.2 percent in 2000.
The record-breaking number of uninsured – exceeding 50 million for the first time since the Census Bureau started keeping records – includes 10 million children.
The biggest jumps in the percentage of uninsured were in Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio, Missouri, Georgia, Delaware, North Carolina and Florida. In terms of absolute numbers, the biggest increases were in California, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, Alabama, Michigan and Pennsylvania. In Massachusetts, 295,000 people remain uninsured despite that state’s 2006 reform. (See link below for historical tables of the uninsured by state.)
“The only way to solve this problem is to insure everyone,” Young said. “And the only way to insure everyone at a reasonable cost is to enact single-payer national health insurance, an improved Medicare for all. Single payer would streamline bureaucracy, saving $400 billion a year on administrative overhead, enough to pay for all the uninsured and to upgrade everyone else’s coverage.”
Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, a PNHP board member and chief of general internal medicine at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, noted that the Census Bureau was once again silent on the pervasive problem of “underinsurance.”
“Not having health insurance, or having poor quality insurance that doesn’t protect you from financial hardship in the face of medical need, is a source of mounting stress and poor medical outcomes for people across our country,” Carrasquillo said. New research has found that about 14.1 million children and 25 million non-elderly adults were underinsured in 2007, a figure that is likely much higher today.
“The government subsidies under the new health law will not be sufficient to provide quality and affordable coverage to the vast majority of Americans,” he said. “Tens of millions will remain uninsured, underinsured and without access to care. We need more fundamental reform to a single-payer national health insurance program.”
State-by-state data on the uninsured from 2006-2009 can be found here.