Posted on September 10, 2009

Census Bureau report on health insurance coverage


Health Insurance Coverage: 2008

U.S. Census Bureau
September 10, 2009

  • The percentage of people without health insurance in 2008 was not statistically different from 2007 at 15.4 percent. The number of uninsured increased to 46.3 million in 2008, from 45.7 million in 2007.
  • The number of people with health insurance increased to 255.1 million in 2008 — up from 253.4 million in 2007. The number of people covered by private health insurance decreased to 201.0 million in 2008 — down from 202.0 million in 2007. The number of people covered by government health insurance increased to 87.4 million — up from 83.0 million in 2007.
  • The percentage of people covered by private health insurance was 66.7 percent in 2008 — down from 67.5 percent in 2007. The percentage of people covered by employment-based health insurance decreased to 58.5 percent in 2008, from 59.3 percent in 2007. The number of people covered by employment-based health insurance decreased to 176.3 million in 2008, from 177.4 million in 2007.
  • The percentage of people covered by government health insurance programs increased to 29.0 percent in 2008, from 27.8 percent in 2007. The percentage and the number of people covered by Medicaid increased to 14.1 percent and 42.6 million in 2008, from 13.2 percent and 39.6 million in 2007. The percentage and number of people covered by Medicare increased to 14.3 percent and 43.0 million in 2008, from 13.8 percent and 41.4 million in 2007.
  • In 2008, the percentage and number of children under 18 without health insurance were 9.9 percent and 7.3 million, lower than they were in 2007 at 11.0 percent and 8.1 million. The uninsured rate and the number of uninsured for children are the lowest since 1987, the first year that comparable health insurance data were collected. Although the uninsured rate for children in poverty decreased to 15.7 percent in 2008, from 17.6 percent in 2007, children in poverty were more likely to be uninsured than all children.
  • The uninsured rate and number of uninsured for non-Hispanic Whites increased in 2008 to 10.8 percent and 21.3 million, from 10.4 percent and 20.5 million in 2007. The uninsured rate and number of uninsured for Blacks in 2008 were not statistically different from 2007, at 19.1 percent and 7.3 million.
  • The percentage of uninsured Hispanics decreased to 30.7 percent in 2008, from 32.1 percent in 2007. The number of uninsured Hispanics was not statistically different in 2008, at 14.6 million.


By Don McCanne, MD

President Obama, in his speech before the joint session of Congress last evening, did not break new ground on the current proposal for reform being developed by Congress and the administration. So, based on the framework that has been advanced, what impact will the current proposal have on the numbers of uninsured?

  • The primary reason for the excessive numbers of uninsured is that health care costs are now so high that premiums for adequate health plans are no longer affordable for low and middle income individuals. The policies in the current proposal designed to reduce health care spending are inadequate and will not have an impact on reducing the numbers of uninsured since it will be impossible to create less expensive plans that have adequate benefits.
  • Although lower-income individuals will have greater access to Medicaid/CHIP and to larger subsidies to purchase private plans, the subsidies for average-income Americans will be inadequate to make the premiums and cost sharing affordable.
  • Most small businesses will be exempt from the employer mandate and thus will not be a factor in increasing the rate of insurance coverage amongst their employees.
  • Initially only uninsured individuals and small businesses will have access to the insurance exchange. Thus most Americans will not be able to select from an FEHBP-like menu of plans similar to the program that members of Congress now have.
  • Because of a reluctance to increase revenues through the tax system and an insistence that the program not add to our budget deficits, Congress has restricted the amount of funds that will be available to expand Medicaid and to finance the premium subsidies for the private plans.
  • Middle-income individuals will be mandated to purchase private health plans. Affordability of these plans for individuals and families will be determined by income levels, by the amount of the government subsidies used to purchase the plans, by adequacy of plan benefits, and by the amount of cost sharing required of those accessing care. Based on the preliminary numbers provided, serious affordability issues will be faced by a far greater number of middle-income individuals than are being projected by the architects of the proposal.
  • Because of affordability issues, consideration is being given to allowing the purchase of underinsurance plans like those designed for the young invincibles. Because of the adverse health and financial impacts of relying on these deficient plans, these individuals should be counted amongst the uninsured from a policy design perspective.
  • It has been agreed that the inadequacy of the government subsidies will require the issuance of hardship waivers for those who cannot afford their portion of the insurance premium, based on their incomes. Hardship waivers will become commonplace for those caught between low-income, where government support is generous, and high-income, where affordability is not a consideration. Those in the middle are the majority of Americans. Hardship waivers which relieve individuals of paying fines for the crime of being uninsured could become the standard for middle-income Americans.

An improved Medicare for all single payer program would automatically include everyone, and would be affordable for all of us. President Obama’s program will leave far too many out, and will fail to adequately address the high costs of health care.

Many believe that President Obama effectively used his address to set the stage for the final phases of the reform process, with no turning back. We desperately do need to push on with reform, but it needs to be reform that works.

When President Obama mentioned single payer last evening, there was an embarrassing smattering of applause. Democrats were there to support the president who supports a mandate to purchase private plans that you can’t afford. How embarrassing. Supporting a plan that serves the private insurance industry so well, at great cost to the American people.

So you disagree? You think that this will serve middle-income Americans well? Prove it! Demand a full study that calculates premiums for private plans with adequate benefits and adequate financial protection in the face of medical need and includes all risks in the pools, that determines the premiums as a percent of income at various income levels, that determines the size of the subsidy that would be required to make the balance of the premiums affordable at each income level, that determines the level of cost sharing that would be required of those with needs, that determines the true amount of public funding that would be necessary to support those premiums and cost sharing, and then describes precisely the sources of that public funding.

Those crafting reform can’t make the numbers work. If you can’t either, then join us in a march on Washington to demand that they enact reform with numbers that do work in providing all of us with the health care that we need. Sacrificing the insurers should not be an embarrassment to any of us. It should be a matter of pride.