By

Washington

The number of Americans without health insurance rose to 41.2 million last year, due largely to a decrease in employment-based coverage, the United States Census Bureau reports.

“The percentage of people covered by employment-based health insurance dropped a point, to 62.6% in 2001,” the Bureau says.

“That was the principal cause of the overall decease in health insurance coverage,” according to the report.

“This new number means that there are more uninsured people than the aggregate population of 23 states plus the District of Columbia,” says Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a Washington-based consumers organization.

The only silver lining in the Census Bureaus report, he says, is that public programs such as Medicaid covered more people last year and cushioned the loss of coverage in the private sector.

“This demonstrates that public program expansions should be enacted to increase health coverage for low-wage working adults,” Pollack says.

Donald Young, president of the Washington-based Health Insurance Association of America, says however, that the jump in the number of uninsured Americans should raise a warning flag to federal and state lawmakers.

He notes that the decrease in the number of people with employer-sponsored coverage occurred entirely among small firms with fewer than 25 employees.

These employers, Young says, are the most vulnerable to economic downturns and rising prices.

“Legislators should think very carefully about establishing new regulations and mandates that, no matter how well intentioned, inevitably raise the cost of health insurance and make it more difficult for employers to continue to provide this vital benefit and for employees to be able to afford it,” he says.

Legislators, Young says, should work to create an environment that brings affordable health insurance within the reach of millions of additional citizens.

According to the Census Bureau, the proportion of people who had employment-based policies fell for workers employed by firms with fewer than 25 employees, but was unchanged for those employed by larger firms.

The number and percentage of people covered by government health insurance programs rose significantly, the Bureau adds.

In particular, some 31.6 million people, or 11.2% of the population, were covered by Medicaid during 2001. This compares with 29.5 million, or 10.6% of the population, in 2000.

The Bureau says that young adults, those between 18 and 24 years old, were the least likely age group to have health insurance in 2001. Some 28% of 18-to-24 year olds were uninsured, the Bureau says.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 7, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.