Number of Uninsured U.S. Residents Increased to 45 Million in 2003, Census Bureau Reports
The number of uninsured U.S. residents in 2003 grew to 45 million, or 15.6% of the population, from 43.6 million, or 15.2% of the population, in 2002, according to Census Bureau figures released Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reports (Gosselin, Los Angeles Times, 8/27). The percentage of U.S. residents without health insurance is the highest since 1998, when 16.4% of the population was uninsured, but the number of uninsured residents last year reached its all-time highest total because of population growth. The number of insured U.S. residents increased by one million to 243.3 million people because of population increases, according to the Census Bureau.
The report, which also detailed national poverty rates, includes the following findings:
- The percentage of people with employer-based health insurance fell to 60.4% in 2003 from 61.3% in 2002.
- The number of full-time workers with insurance decreased by 725,000 between 2002 and 2003 (Appleby, USA Today, 8/27).
- The percentage of uninsured people who were working increased from 19.5% in 2002 to 20.2% last year (Lueck/McKinnon, Wall Street Journal, 8/27).
- In 2003, 26.6% of the population received some form of government health insurance coverage -- the highest percentage since 1995 (Connolly/Witte, Washington Post, 8/27).
- The proportion of Medicaid beneficiaries increased to 12.4% of the population, from 11.6% (Wall Street Journal, 8/27).
- The proportion of children who were uninsured in 2003 remained steady at 11.4% (Snowbeck, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/27).
- Much of the increase in the overall uninsured population was among white adults in the South (Washington Post, 8/27).
- In 2003, 32.7% of Hispanics were uninsured, compared with 11.1% of non-Hispanic whites, 19.4% of African Americans and 18.6% of Asians (USA Today graphic, 8/27).
- California, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas were the four states with the highest percentage of uninsured residents in 2003.
In California, Census data indicates that:
- The number of uninsured state residents increased by 200,000 from 2000 to 6.5 million in 2003;
- About 18.4% of state residents are uninsured, the fourth-worst uninsured rate among states; and
- The number of state residents with private health coverage decreased by 300,000.
The data "signaled a clear shift in the way the 2001 recession and its aftermath have spread across the country," according to the New York Times. Health insurance coverage declined only among families whose annual incomes were below $75,000 (Leonhardt, New York Times, 8/27).
Dan Weinberg, a Census Bureau analyst, said, "Certainly, the long-term trend is firms offering less generous [benefit] plans, and as people lose jobs, they tend to lose health insurance coverage" (Blanton, Boston Globe, 8/27).
While the percentage of people receiving employer-sponsored health insurance has been declining in recent years, Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, said the continuance of the trend in 2003 is particularly concerning (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/27).
According to economist Paul Fronstin of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, employer-provided health care figures are "not just about how many people have jobs, but it's about the kind of jobs they have" (Washington Post, 8/27). In addition, the "softer economy" has prompted employers to "move people to part-time status, which generally means they don't get health insurance," Fronstin said. He added that that the number of employers offering health benefits has not necessarily changed, but rather that employers are shifting more of the burden of health care costs onto workers, which has caused more employees to decline coverage (USA Today, 8/27).
Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, said, "These numbers show the beginning of a new trend where people can't afford the coverage they're being offered" (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/27).
The rate of uninsured children remained steady because Medicaid and SCHIP programs "really did what they're supposed to do," Catherine Hoffman, associate director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, said (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/27). Diane Rowland, executive director of KCMU and executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, "The medical safety net held up." The number of people with health insurance "swelled because of substantial growth in government-provided health coverage," especially through Medicaid and SCHIP, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"Virtually all" of the improvement in health coverage for children was attributed to the SCHIP program, which "surprise[d]" analysts because many states had tightened eligibility rules for the program in the last few years to keep down costs, the Times reports. "That shows that government can effectively offset economic hardships generated by the market economy," Sheldon Danziger, a public policy scholar at the University of Michigan, said (Gosselin, Los Angeles Times, 8/27).
The "only silver lining" in the report was that Medicaid coverage increased to extend care to people who would otherwise be uninsured, Kathleen Stoll, health policy adviser for Families USA, said. "This underscores the importance of protecting the Medicaid program," she said (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 8/27). The Census Bureau health insurance data is available online.
The following news outlets reported on the new statistics:
CBS "Evening News" (Rather, "Evening News," CBS, 8/26).
CNN "Newsnight with Aaron Brown" (Cohen, "Newsnight with Aaron Brown," CNN, 8/26).
NBC "Nightly News" (Allen, "Nightly News," NBC, 8/26).
NPR's "All Things Considered" (Schalch, "All Things Considered," NPR, 8/26).
- NPR's "Morning Edition" (Schalch, "Morning Edition," NPR, 8/26).
- Fox News' "Your World with Neil Cavuto" featured an interview with HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on the new statistics (Cavuto, "Your World with Neil Cavuto," Fox News, 8/26).