A growing number of Americans are doing without health insurance, a sign that hard times continue for many even as the U.S. economy slowly continues to recover.
According to a Wednesday report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a liberal think tank, 50.7 million people had no health insurance in 2009, up 4.3 million from 2008. The percentage of people without health-care coverage jumped to 16.7% last year from 15.4%. These are the largest single-year increases on record since the center began collecting data back in 1987.
CBPP paints a dire picture of the situation:
"For example, between 2008 and 2009, the uninsured rate grew among both workers and nonworkers, among single individuals and those in families, among people in all regions of the country, among men and women, among those at all income levels, and among all major racial and ethnic groups other than Asians. Nearly one of every three individuals living below the poverty line lacked insurance in 2009, as did more than one in four individuals with incomes between one and two times the poverty line."
Uninsured rates were substantially higher in the south (19.7%) and the west (18.3%) than in other regions. About one of every three Hispanics and 19.7% of inner-city residents lacked coverage. Employer-based health insurance coverage also is on the decline. CBPP found that 58.9% of the nonelderly population had employer coverage in 2009, down 3 percentage points from 2008 and 8.9 percentage points from 1999.
Health-Insurance Costs Skyrocket
Meanwhile, health-insurance costs continue to skyrocket. Premiums for single coverage averaged $5,049 per year -- up 130% from 1999, according to an annual survey of employers. The average premium for family coverage increased more than 140% over the same period to $13,770.
For CBPP and other backers of President Obama's health care reform, these figures underscore the need for the law, which Republicans are vowing to repeal.
"In all states, the great majority of those uninsured will be eligible either for expanded Medicaid coverage or for subsidized insurance through the state-based exchange(s)," the think tank says. "Thus, health reform will sharply reduce the number of uninsured. Had these provisions already been in effect in 2009, the increase in the number of Americans without insurance would have been a modest fraction of what it was."
But opponents of the reform, such as Robert Moffit, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation's Center For Policy Innovations, say its supporters fail to account for the law's more than $1 trillion cost to taxpayers. "They are not wrong... (But) you are talking about a huge increase," Moffit says. "If you look at the data, [it's] a relatively small number of people who are chronically uninsured."
The vast majority of people who lack coverage previously had insurance, but lost it when they lost their jobs, which is why health insurance should not be tied exclusively to employers, Moffit says. Heritage, which would like insurance coverage to be portable, supports tax breaks for those who buy their own insurance.
Republicans, who will take control of the House of Representatives in January and who also made inroads in the Senate, have made scrapping the health-care reform bill -- which they call Obamacare -- one of their top priorities.
"I have never seen anything quite like his in my lifetime," Moffit says.