HOW DO YOU SEE THE DATA?
Some see nearly 1 million additional people without coverage while others see gains in benefits
The new U.S. Census Bureau statistics on health insurance enrollment, income and poverty levels offer ammunition to both sides of the divide over whether the government should play a greater or smaller role in the country’s healthcare system.
As members of Congress’ Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction met last week for the first time to find ways to cut federal spending, presumably in part through Medicare and Medicaid program reductions, the Census Bureau data offered conflicting indicators on the state of healthcare in the country.
Insurance coverage rates held steady at the same time that poverty rates rose and real incomes fell. The percentage of residents with employment-based health coverage continued to drop and the percentage of young adults covered rose.
The annual estimates are based on the bureau’s Current Population Survey and were published Sept. 13 in Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010. The survey of 50,000 U.S. households is conducted monthly, but asks only once a year about health insurance coverage.
It’s a little bit perplexing,” said Timothy McBride, associate dean for public health at Washington University in St. Louis, in reference to the percentage of U.S. residents without health insurance increased by a statistically insignificant amount. The uninsured rate climbed to 16.3% in 2010 from 16.1% in 2009. The absolute number of uninsured U.S. residents in 2010 climbed 1.9%, or 919,000, to a record 49.9 million people.
The data suggest both positive and negative movement in the underlying segments of the population that in total kept the overall uninsured rate almost flat, McBride said.
Healthcare providers say that even if the percentage of residents without insurance was basically level, they’re still seeing more uninsured and the faltering economy appears to be adding to the ranks this year. “We’ve seen anywhere between an 8% and 10% increase in the number of uninsured in the last year,” said Barry Arbuckle, president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System, Fountain Valley, Calif. Arbuckle noted that somewhat surprisingly the number of uninsured patients they’re treating is rising almost as fast in the system’s hospitals in relatively wealthier Orange County as in its Los Angeles County hospitals.
And like the rest of the industry, Arbuckle is concerned the deficit reduction panel known as the “supercommittee” will recommend further Medicare cuts on top of what was negotiated as part of last year’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “Medicare, unfortunately, is kind of an easy target,” he said.
Also alarming for industry executives is data in the report regarding income and
While the percentage of uninsured Americans is holding steady, the absolute number of uninsured is growing. At left, crowds line up for a Remote Area Medical free clinic held in Oakland, Calif., this spring.