As Democrats face an uphill climb headed into the midterms, some grumble about the time and political capital expended to enact an imperfect but valuable health reform bill. Without a doubt, this was a tough fight. It took a year. Voters’ response is mixed. It’s fair to ask: Was it really worth it?
The number of people with health insurance decreased from 255.1 million in 2008 to 253.6 million in 2009. Since 1987, the first year that comparable health insurance data were collected, this is the first year that the number of people with health insurance has decreased.
Between 2008 and 2009, the number of people covered by private health insurance decreased from 201.0 million to 194.5 million, while the number covered by government health insurance climbed from 87.4 million to 93.2 million. The number covered by employment-based health insurance declined from 176.3 million to 169.7 million. The number with Medicaid coverage increased from 42.6 million to 47.8 million.
Comparable health insurance data were first collected in 1987. The percentage of people covered by private insurance (63.9 percent) is the lowest since that year, as is the percentage of people covered by employment-based insurance (55.8 percent). In contrast, the percentage of people covered by government health insurance programs (30.6 percent) is the highest since 1987….
The private insurance system–especially employer-based coverage–is unravelling under the twin pressures of recession and rising health care costs. Opponents of the Affordable Health Care Act make implicit or explicit appeals to people who now have good private insurance (and, more hypocritically, Medicare): You don’t need this bill. For millions of Americans, this coverage is less secure than we might wish or suppose.
The Affordable Care Act will provide insurance for more than 30 million people who would otherwise go uncovered. It provides immediate help to millions of people through community health centers and (to a lesser extent) through high-risk insurance pools. As of next week, the bill provides greatly strengthened regulatory protections for insurance consumers, for children with preexisting conditions, and for young adults.
Starting in 2014, the new law will provide greater health and economic security to millions of others. Today’s figures underscore the value–indeed the necessity–of the new law. It had to be done. Of course, the same figures highlight the unmet needs of millions of people between now and 2014, when the most powerful health reform provisions kick in.