Number of Uninsured Americans Rises to 45 Million
For Immediate Release:
September 14, 2004
Dr. Jerry Earll
1.6 Million More Americans Uninsured, Millions More ï¿½Underinsuredï¿½
Statement of Dr. Jerry Earll on the Uninsured
Washington, DC. -- The recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau on the uninsured brought sad news. The number of uninsured Americans climbed dramatically to 45.0 million (15.6 percent of the population) in 2003, an increase of 1.4 million. The increase would have been much greater if Medicaid enrollment had not been expanded to an additional 2.4 million Americans. Children make up 8.4 million of the uninsured, a number that has not budged despite the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program. In the state of Texas, a shocking one-fourth of the population has no health care insurance.
Businesses are dropping health coverage as a benefit for their workers in response to continually escalating costs, up 60 percent since 2001. A fall in the percentage of Americans with employer-sponsored insurance (from 65 percent in 2001 to 60.4 percent this year) accounted for most of the increase in uninsured. Health insurance premiums are now so high that they often exceed a family's mortgage payments. Family coverage averages almost $10,000 a year.
In our nation's capital, the uninsured scramble for health care since the closure of the public hospital, DC General. It is not only the indigent. Middle class Americans make up a growing share of the uninsured, and tens of millions more are "underinsured." We regularly see patients who refuse to go to the emergency room for needed evaluation because of the cost. 18,000 Americans die every year because of lack of health care, and one million middle class families go bankrupt for medical bills. Death and bankruptcy -- that is real terror for any family!
David Broder's recent description of the American health care system in a "downward death spiral" remains accurate. Americans are being offered tea cups to bail out the Titanic. Proposals for "consumer directed health care," "health savings accounts" and "taking ownership" will neither help the uninsured nor control rising costs: They are cruel hoaxes when you do not own anything. Americans already pay the highest out-of-pocket costs in the world, so shifting more costs onto "consumers" will simply add to the heavy financial burden faced by the ill. Our nation is already spending more than enough money to pay for health care for all, but nearly one-third of every dollar is squandered on private insurance paperwork and overhead.
It is time for all physicians to become active in health policy and the movement for single payer national health insurance. Single payer could save enough on administrative costs to cover all the uninsured and upgrade benefits for everyone, including prescription medications. It is our duty as physicians to promote an effective remedy to the crisis and wise stewardship of health resources. Please join me in this effort.
Dr. Jerry Earll is a Professor in the Department of Medicine at Georgetown University and the Director of the Washington Home and Hospice in Washington, DC. He served as a Colonel in the US Medical Corps (1958-1979).
Physicians for a National Health Program was founded in 1987 and has over 12,000 physician members in every specialty and state. For information or additional contacts, please call Nick Skala at (312) 782-6006.