50 million uninsured….

The latest health insurance coverage figures are out. Fifty million Americans are uninsured. New figures underscore the necessity, and the maddening back-loading, of health reform.

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?

Well, this year’s income and poverty statistics are now out. Fifty million Americans now lack health insurance coverage:

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.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

3 thoughts on “50 million uninsured….”

  1. As someone who received notice yesterday that my irreplaceable health-insurance policy has been canceled ("irreplaceable" because I'm treated for depression and therefore uninsurable), allow me to say "amen." People who don't think we have a health-care crisis are people who have access to health care–for the moment. Just as people with disabilities point out that the rest of the population is "temporarily abled," so those of us without health insurance and thus grateful for the Affordable Care Act should describe the rest of the population as "temporarily insured."

  2. One thing that has been glossed on this report requires looking at the release dates. Gee Whiz Bush's Secretary of Commerce pushed the release date for the Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASES) report into August. Prior to GW Bush, the report was released in September. The reason was clearly to bury bad news. On my campus we learned to beware Friday afternoon "memo bombs." They never contained good news. GW Bush, or more likely his people knew there was no good news to be found in the ASES, so they buried it in August recess.

    Obama's people chose to restore the release date to September. I hope it works.

  3. Harold, maybe you can help. My sister-in-law just returned from a 10-year sojourn in Southeast Asia, where she taught English. She made an adequate living while away and came "home" with several thousand dollars saved. But she has only been able to find what is essentially minimum wage work, without any benefits whatsoever, of course. On Monday of this week she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. She needs a diagnostic MRI to determine her course of treatment, but has no money to pay for it. Or any treatment for that matter. She is ineligible for Medicaid and is still too young for Medicare. Is she just supposed to wait around for the three years until she can get Medicare and hope in the meantime that her cancer is slow-growing and remains non-metastatic? Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your reply!

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