Oct. 25, 2006 – A new analysis of census data reveals that despite signs of what some call a rebounding economy, the number of people lacking health insurance continues to expand.
According to a report released last week by the public-health research institute Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2005 another 1.3 million Americans joined the ranks of the uninsured, bringing the total uninsured non-elderly population to just over 46 million. Not counting seniors eligible for Medicare, the uninsured rate reached about 18 percent.
The report noted that the uninsured rate continued a five-year growth streak â€“ even as the economyâ€™s total productivity grew substantially and unemployment decreased.
Of the 1.3 million new uninsured people studied in the report, over a million were individuals living in family units that make below twice the poverty level. That typically amounts to less than $40,000 per year for a family of four, though the threshold varies according to location and household size.
The population of uninsured children grew by an estimated 360,000 in 2005 following several years of general decline, according to census data released in August.
Researchers attributed much of the coverage gap to the soaring cost of insurance premiums for employer health benefits. But they also pointed to structural economic changes that may be undermining healthcare coverage for working Americans.
Between 2000 and 2005, more workers moved into small firms or self-employment, where health coverage is generally less prevalent. In that same period, industries that have traditionally offered solid health benefits â€“ such as manufacturing, government administration and mining â€“ lost about two million workers.
Meanwhile, 5.6 million workers entered industries that traditionally have low employer-insurance rates, including retail, communications and construction.
The uninsured population grew by a larger margin in 2005 than it did in 2004, according to the Kaiser analysis. Researchers found that in 2004, Medicaid and its sister program for children, the State Childrenâ€™s Health Insurance Program, expanded slightly, picking up some of the slack from the loss of employer coverage. But last year, those public programs failed to grow to offset the continued decline in employer-based insurance.