Some gains in trends for the poor and uninsured, but no cause for celebration
Despite improvement in uninsured numbers, don’t celebrate just yet
Last week offered the usual steady diet of reports, studies and analyses in the news, inside and outside of healthcare. But as is often the case today, the data are interconnected. One of the high-profile reports came courtesy of the federal government, specifically the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual review of the state of our nation when it comes to poverty status and the lack of health insurance coverage. This year, while the findings certainly aren’t cause for excessive exuberance, they do show improvement.
The percentage of uninsured fell, and the poverty level ticked down (statistically it remained flat) despite a lowsimmer economy. But those findings, as modest as they might be, beat the alternative bad news on both of those fronts to which we have become accustomed.
The figures on the uninsured delivered the strongest movement based on the overall percentages. According to the census figures, the rate of U.S. uninsured dropped to 15.7% last year from 16.3% in 2010, which was the largest drop since the federal government adjusted its reporting methodology in 1999.
Where did most of the improvement occur? A large drop in the numbers of uninsured young adults led the way, with the percentage of those ages 19-25 lacking health coverage falling to 27.7% last year from 29.8% in 2010. That represents half a million additional young men and women who had health insurance coverage.
Credit has to go to one of the most popular provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance coverage up to age 26. It’s an age group that continues to struggle with unemployment at considerably higher percentages than the national average, so the extended cover- age is most welcome for this generation. And their parents.
Meanwhile, the national poverty rate settled to 15% in 2011 from 15.1% in the previous year, still a positive sign since most analysts had predicted a fourth straight year of higher poverty levels. According to the Census Bureau, government programs such as Medicaid as well as some reductions in unemployment levels helped keep the poverty rate in check. Unfortunately, the level at which the poverty remained static represents a decades-long high. While the numbers are better than expected, we all expect this nation to do better than that. The voters are likely to make that point to our nation’s leaders on Nov. 6.
Still another report last week, this one from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, posted some good news on the patient-safety front.
According to AHRQ, an intervention program known as the Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program, or CUSP, launched nationwide in 2009 to prevent potentially deadly central-line infections among hospitalized patients, posted a 40% reduction in cases, which the agency estimated saved more than 500 lives and some $34 million in costs.
At a time when patient-safety gains still seem to be frustratingly rare, if they are recorded at all, such improvement, especially when so much is at stake, should be recognized.
Even as the current economic operating environment forces healthcare leaders to fret more than ever over reimbursement rates, profit margins and any number of financial performance metrics, it’s important to remember the real bottom line in this industry: the science of caring for human beings. Our healthcare system isn’t the best in the world, by far, but our world-class caregivers continue striving to make it so.