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A Decline in Uninsured Is Reported for 2007

Resource type: News

The New York Times |

by IAN URBINA WASHINGTON – After climbing steadily for six years, the number of Americans without health insurance dropped by more than a million in 2007, to 45.7 million, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. The drop was the result of growth in government-sponsored health insurance programs, officials said, most of them focused on children. At the same time, the number of people covered by private insurance continued to decline. Experts cautioned that the report, which also included data on income and poverty, did not take into account the economic downturn that began late last year, and therefore it probably presents a rosier picture than the current economic reality. According to the report, the nation’s median household income rose by 1.3 percent in 2007, to $50,233, the third consecutive annual increase. The nation’s poverty rate remained flat at 12.5 percent, the report said. “The data in this report refer to last year, when everything was different,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal policy group in Washington. “This year, we’re losing jobs on a monthly basis, inflation is running well over 5 percent, and unemployment was last seen at 5.7 percent and rising.” Health-care experts and advocates for the poor said the report also presented an outdated picture regarding health insurance. The rate of people without health insurance declined to 15.3 percent in 2007, from 15.8 percent a year earlier. “In 2007, at least 26 states made efforts to expand coverage, but as the economy has turned downward so have state efforts,” said Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Ms. Rowland added that insurance premiums had risen faster than wages and inflation, causing more people to seek insurance from public programs. The census report, she said, highlights the importance of expanding government health-care plans like the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. In December, President Bush signed legislation that extends federal financing for the program through the end of March 2009. That action came after he vetoed two Congressional attempts to expand the program. David Johnson, chief of the Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division at the Census Bureau, said that the number of people covered by private insurance declined in 2007, but that the overall number of people who were uninsured went down because of federal and state programs. “The fall in private insurance was similar to recent years,” Mr. Johnson said. “That fall was offset by the rise in government insurance.” The number of people under 18 without insurance dropped to 11 percent, or 8.1 million, in 2007, from 11.7 percent, or 8.7 million, a year earlier. Over all, the percentage of people covered by government programs rose to 27.8 percent in 2007 from 27 percent the year before. The percentage and number of people on Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income people, rose to 13.2 percent, or 39.6 million, in 2007, up from 12.9 percent, or 38.3 million, in 2006. Private health insurance fell, covering 67.5 percent of Americans in 2007, down from 67.9 percent in 2006. Employment-based coverage also continued its long decline in 2007, dropping to 59.3 percent from 59.7 percent. “States such as Massachusetts have also played an important role in stemming the rising tide of uninsured, and thanks to their health reform law they now have one of the lowest uninsured rates,” said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation supporting independent health policy and health care research. “But 45.7 million uninsured people are far too many, and we need a national solution to this crisis.” Changes in economic circumstances varied regionally and by race and age. Douglas J. Besharov, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group, said one of the most noteworthy statistics in the report concerned foreign-born residents. While households led by someone who was native-born had an increase of 1 percent in median income, the income of households headed by foreign-born persons who are noncitizens dropped 7.3 percent in 2007, according to the report. Real median income (adjusted for inflation) for black and non-Hispanic white households rose between 2006 and 2007, representing the first measured real increase in annual household income for each group since 1999, according to the report. Real median household income remained statistically unchanged for Asians and Hispanics. Mr. Besharov said an increase in poverty among Hispanics in the construction trade stemmed largely from the bursting of the housing bubble and the ensuing mortgage crisis. “With more current data, we would see that the type of the poverty that we see among Latinos has actually already spread to the general population,” Mr. Besharov said. Mr. Bernstein, from the Economic Policy Institute, agreed and said that while comparisons to 2006 showed some improvement, in order to understand the difficulties facing middle- and low-income families, it was important to consider these results in the context of the economic expansion since 2000. For the first time on record, real household income is no higher at the end of an economic expansion than it was when the cycle began, Mr. Bernstein said. The median income of working-age households – with household heads under age 65 – rose insignificantly in 2007, when adjusted for inflation, and was $2,010 below its 2000 level. “Working households helped bake a bigger economic pie but ended up with thinner slices,” Mr. Bernstein said. The report also found other disparities. Women earned 78 cents for every $1 earned by men. But that is the highest percentage ever reported for women, when compared with men. Texas led the nation with the highest percentage of uninsured residents, 24.4 percent, while Massachusetts and Hawaii, at 8.3 percent, had the lowest.

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health care, Kaiser Family Foundation