Surge in Uninsured Adults Shows How Much We Need Healthcare Reform

Last Updated Nov 19, 2010 5:46 PM EST

An astonishing government report shows how rapidly the problem of the uninsured is becoming everybody's problem: 22 percent of adults aged 18-64 are now "going bare," with nothing to protect them from financial ruin if they become seriously ill or injured, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The metastasis of this cancer in the body politic raises questions about how long a certain party can continue to play politics with America's health care.

Nearly 59 million people went without coverage for at least part of 2010, the CDC survey of U.S. households found. Four million more Americans were uninsured in the first quarter of this year than in 2008.

While the Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid have limited the loss of coverage among children, there is no comparable safety net for working adults. So 80 percent of the uninsured this year were adults. In that population, 30.4 million people had been uninsured continuously for a year in the first quarter, up from 27.5 million in 2008, the CDC said.

This year alone, 9 percent of adults lost private coverage, and only 5 percent were able to switch to government programs such as Medicaid. Considering how much job losses have declined during the past year, it seems clear that much of this decrease in private insurance is due to companies dropping health coverage or making it too expensive for some of their workers.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that the number of people without health insurance coverage rose from 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009, while the percentage of uninsured increased from 15.4 percent to 16.7 percent over the same period. The CDC survey, while it uses different methodology, suggests that the census bureau will see another big surge in the uninsured in 2010.

The Democrats will probably use the CDC numbers to buttress their case that the reform program is necessary, while the Republicans will continue to insist it will not solve the problem. If they keep on taking that line, perhaps they'll succeed in defeating reform. But if they fail, 32 million more Americans will get coverage in 2014. From where I stand, that looks like a great advance for our society.

Finally, I'd like to comment on a blog post by Merrill Goozner. Normally a perspicacious observer of the healthcare scene, Goozner seems to have temporarily lost his head. He suggests that Democrats can "take the steam out of" Republican efforts to kill reform if they simply repeal two provisions of the ACA: the individual mandate and the tax on "Cadillac plans."

Aside from the fact that nothing will stop the Republican steamroller except (perhaps) World War III, the individual mandate is the core of the reform legislation, because it ensures that most people will be covered and that those who can pay for insurance will. Without that mandate, more people will delay care until they're very ill, passing on the cost to the rest of us; moreover, insurance companies will raise rates sky-high to compensate for being forced to accept people who only buy insurance after they get sick.

As for the Cadillac plan tax, that doesn't kick in until 2018, and many experts say it will help reduce costs by discouraging too-rich benefits. Reasonable people can disagree about the levels at which the excise tax should kick in, but there's no need to deep-six the provision.

Image supplied courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Related:

  • Ken Terry

    Ken Terry, a former senior editor at Medical Economics Magazine, is the author of the book Rx For Health Care Reform.