INSURANCE COVERAGE: Private Employers’ Share Overstated
Far fewer Americans are covered by private health insurance -- and far more by the government -- than is "commonly thought," according to a study in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Although Census Bureau figures indicate that 61.2% of Americans have job-related coverage "and 25.9% [are] insured by the government," the new study's authors say these figures are distorted by reporting procedures that show state and federal employees as having private coverage, "even though taxpayers ultimately pay for that insurance." The AP/Las Vegas Sun reports that the study points out the figures are further skewed by categorizing people with a combination of private and federal coverage as only having private insurance, and listing some people as having private insurance when they pay the entire premium themselves (1/13).
Gov't Ceding Role?
According to the study authors' adjusted figures, in 1997 43.1% of the population depended principally on health insurance paid for by private-sector employers, 34.2% had publicly funded insurance, 7.1% purchased their own coverage, and 15.6% were uninsured. The data was derived from the Census Bureau's March 1997 Current Population Survey of a 130,000-person representative sample of the U.S. The authors conclude, "Current definitions of health insurance overemphasize the role of private employers and underestimate government-paid insurance." They also note that misinterpreted statistics "may have encouraged the government to cede to private firms an inappropriately large role in decision making about health care (Carrasquillo et al., 1/14 issue).
'No Such Thing'
Study co-author Dr. David Himmelstein of the Physicians for a National Health Program said, "The image is that we have an employer-based health care system, but the reality is we have no such thing." Rob Restuccia of Health Care for All asserted that the "numbers are more evidence that employers are backing away from providing coverage for their workers," with the problem most severe among low wage earners (Lasalandra, Boston Herald, 1/14).