Posted on September 25, 1998

Number of Americans Without Health Insurance Jumps to 43.2 Million


September, 1998

Despite Booming Economy, Number Uninsured Rises 1.5 Million

Cambridge, MA -- The number of Americans without health insurance climbed to 43.2 million last year, nearly one in every six persons. The number of uninsured was up 1.5 million from 41.7 million in 1996, equivalent to 125,000 people losing coverage every month, according to an analysis of raw data posted on the internet by the Census Bureau yesterday.

The 1998 Current Population Survey (CPS) data was analyzed by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons last night, and reported by Physicians for a National Health Program today.

"Sixteen percent of Americans are without insurance, a higher proportion than at any time since the passage of Medicare of Medicaid," according to Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard and a co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program. "What's startling is the magnitude of the increase when the economy was booming."

California experienced the largest jump in uninsured, up 575,000 to 7.1 million people without coverage. Other states with large increases in the number of uninsured include Michigan (up 276,000 to 1.1 million), Illinois (up 169,000 to 1.5 million), Alabama (up 108,000 to 660,000), Florida (up 96,000 to 2.8 million), Maryland (up 96,000 to 680,000), and Pennsylvania (up 76,000 to 1.2 million).

In six states, more than one out of every five persons is uninsured: Texas (24.5%), Arkansas (24.4%), Arizona (23.8%), California (21.5%), New Mexico (20.2%), and Mississippi (20.1%). The number of states with less than 10% of the population uninsured dwindled from eight in 1996 to just five in 1997. Hawaii (7.5%) and Wisconsin (7.9%) had the lowest percentages of uninsured in 1997.

"We see the terrible consequences of patients lacking insurance in my clinic every day," said Dr. Bob LeBow, Medical Director of the Terry Reilly Health Center in Nampa Idaho and President of Physicians for a National Health Program.

"Hispanic Americans had the highest rates of uninsurance," noted Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo of Columbia University. "Millions of middle and upper income families also were uninsured."

Nearly 11 million people in families with incomes between $30,000 and $60,000 were uninsured in 1997, as well as 5.8 million in families with incomes over $60,000. The uninsurance rate for Hispanics climbed from 33.6% to 34.2%.

Uninsurance rates increased both for men (from 17.1% to 17.5%) and for women (from 14.2% to 14.7%). While the number of uninsured children was stable at 10.6 million, there were increases for young and middle-aged adults; 23.8% of people 18-39 were uninsured in 1997 (up from 22.7% in 1996), as were 14.6% of those between 40 and 65 (up from 14.4%).

Medicaid enrollment fell by approximately 1.8 million, apparently as a result of welfare cutbacks. Meanwhile, despite rising employment, the proportion of Americans with private coverage actually fell slightly from 70.2% to 70.0%. Medicare coverage rose slightly.

"These may be the best of times for the economy, but they are the worst of times for health care," noted Dr. David Himmelstein of Harvard. "Uninsurance is rising, even people with coverage often can't get the care they need, and costs will double in the next decade. It's time to reopen debate over national health insurance."