The number of people without health insurance rose in 2002 by 2.4 million to 43.6 million, the U.S. Census Bureau reported last week.
That translates to an estimated 15.2% of the population with no health insurance coverage in 2002, up from 14.6% in 2001, according to the Census Bureaus report, “Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2002.”
The increase in the ranks of the uninsured is attributed in part in the report to a drop in the percentage of people covered by employment-based health insurance from 62.6% to 61.3%.
However, the number of people with health insurance also increased–rising by 1.5 million between 2001 and 2002, to 242.4 million, according to Census figures.
Both increases can be “attributed largely to an overall population growth from 2001 to 2002,” the report says.
More people have health insurance because more are covered by government health insurance programs. That figure rose in 2002, from 25.3% to 25.7%, largely as the result of an increase in Medicaid coverage. But this increase was not enough to offset the decline in private coverage caused by job losses and employee benefit cutbacks.
Donald Young, president of the Health Insurance Association of America, Washington, predicts that as the economy rebounds, the number of people with private health insurance will grow.
But, he thinks double-digit increases in health care costs will put continuing pressure on both private, employer-backed health insurance and on public programs like Medicaid and State Childrens Health Insurance Program.
“Affordability remains the number one reason people lack health coverage today,” he said in a prepared statement.
The HIAA suggests avoiding “costly” new mandates or regulations and providing tax incentives to “help small employers and moderate income workers better afford health insurance coverage.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Washington, is helping organize “Cover the Uninsured Week,” a mobilization effort meant to make the issue of the uninsured a central part of national discussions through public education and community events.
The week, planned for May 10-16, 2004, is headed by both the foundation and a group of former surgeons general and presidents including Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
Among the planned events are community health fairs, educational forums, workshops for small business owners seeking to maintain health coverage for their employees, and volunteer efforts by physicians and others, the foundation says.
Ronald Pollack, executive director of the consumer group Families USA, Washington, said in a prepared statement that the growth of the numbers of the uninsured is the largest increase in a decade.