New York Times Looks at Growing Ranks of Uninsured Among the Middle Class
The New York Times today examines the "changing portrait" of U.S. residents who lack health insurance, a problem traditionally associated with the poor and unemployed that now is "spreading up the income ladder and deep into the ranks of those with full-time jobs." According to Census Bureau figures, 1.4 million people lost their health coverage in 2001, approximately 800,000 of them had annual incomes over $75,000. Many of those who lost coverage either became unemployed or were "priced out of the health care market by rapidly rising" insurance premiums, according to the Times. Some analysts say that the recent economic downturn has particularly impacted middle-income and upper-income families because many of the job losses were in "high-wage industries," such as technology and telecommunications, the Times reports. Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman said, "Losing health benefits is becoming a middle-class issue," adding, "The number of uninsured will continue to grow as long as health insurance premiums rise more rapidly than earnings, as they have for a decade." Now that the insurance crisis is affecting high-income families and "millions" of those in the middle class, some advocates for the uninsured hope that lawmakers will "finally resolve the problem," according to the Times.
Mary Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, an industry coalition seeking coverage for the uninsured, said, "More and more people say that the uninsured will be a big issue in the next Congress. ... We are very optimistic." She added, "Lawmakers have seen the new face of the uninsured -- it's not a welfare population -- and will seek solutions for the employed uninsured." Some advocates are concerned that the issue could "touch off a partisan brawl," the Times reports. But Families USA Executive Director Ronald Pollack said that the two parties could agree on a plan that would combine tax credits, which Republicans favor, with an expansion of Medicaid and CHIP, favored by Democrats. Still, federal and state budget shortfalls will "make it difficult" to fund coverage for the uninsured, and other issues, such as a prescription drug benefit, are higher priorities for lawmakers, the Times reports (Broder et al., New York Times, 11/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.