Rate of Uninsrued Decreases Among Children, Increases for Working-Age Adults
The percentage of uninsured children decreased to the lowest recorded level ever in 2003, but the overall percentage of uninsured working-age adults increased slightly, according to an annual survey released Wednesday by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Yee, AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/30). The survey found that the percentage of children under the age of 18 without insurance at the time of the household interview was 10.1% in 2003, compared with 13.9% of children without insurance at the time of the interview in 1997 (Baltimore Sun, 7/1). In addition, the percentage of children without insurance for part of the year fell to 13.7% in 2003 from 18.1% in 1997. The survey also found that percentage of children without any insurance for more than one year dropped to 5.3% in 2003 from 8.4% in 1997 (Nation Health Interview Survey 2003, 6/30). CDC officials said that improved health insurance coverage for children stemmed from increased funding for public coverage under programs such as SCHIP, the Wall Street Journal reports (Corbett Dooren, Wall Street Journal, 7/1). Robin Cohen, a CDC statistician, said, "We were surprised how dramatic the drop was in children."
While the percentage of total U.S. residents without insurance at the time of the interview remained steady at about 15% between 1997 and 2003, the percentage of working-age adults -- those ages 18 to 64 -- without coverage at the time of the interview increased to 20.1% in 2003 from 18.9% in 1997 (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/30). The percentage of working-age adults without insurance for part of the year increased slightly to 23.8% in 2003 from 23.6% in 1997. The survey also found that percentage of working-age adults without an insurance for more than one year increased to 13.7% in 2003 from 13.3% in 1997 and 12.5% in 2002 (Nation Health Interview Survey 2003, 6/30). Cohen called the increase in long-term uninsured working-age adults "quite a significant jump" (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 7/1).
Younger adults were most likely to be uninsured, with 30.1% of those ages 18 to 24 lacking health coverage at the time of the interview. Indicating that most working-age adults get their health coverage through their employers, the survey found that 58% of unemployed adults were uninsured for at least part of the year in 2003, compared with 21.5% of employed people. The survey found that almost 31% of unemployed people were uninsured for more than one year in 2003, compared with 12.5% of employed adults. For working-age adults, the survey found an increasing trend in public health coverage -- such as Medicaid and other government-sponsored plans -- and a decline in private coverage, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 7/1). The percentage of working-age adults with public health coverage increased to 10.9% in 2003 from 10.2% in 1997. In addition, the percentage of working-age adults with private health coverage decreased to 70.6% in 2003 from 72.8% in 1997 (Nation Health Interview Survey 2003, 6/30). According to the Times, the increase in uninsured working-age adults "underscore[s] the chronic nature of the problem and the decreasing likelihood that a job guaranteed access to health insurance" (Los Angeles Times, 7/1).
The survey also found "continued gaps in coverage" among whites and minorities, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 7/1). Among Hispanics in 2003, 33% were uninsured at the time of the interview, 36.9% were uninsured for part of the year and 26.6% were uninsured for more than one year. Among blacks in 2003, 17.4% were uninsured at the time of the interview, 21.1% were uninsured for part of the year and 10.7% were uninsured for more than one year. Among whites in 2003, 11% were uninsured at the time of the interview, 14.1% were uninsured for part of the year and 6.4% were uninsured for more than one year (Nation Health Interview Survey 2003, 6/30).
Kate Sullivan Hare, executive director of health policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that increasing health care costs make it more difficult for businesses to offer health benefits to employees, and increased cost sharing with workers causes more employees to forgo health coverage altogether, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 7/1). Kenneth Thorpe, chair of Emory University's department of health policy and management, said that most of the nation's uninsured are single adults who work for employers that are too small to offer health insurance, AP/Newsday reports. "It's just unaffordable for most low- and moderate-income workers," Thorpe said, adding, "That's the area where we haven't done anywhere near as well on the covered side" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/30).
Diane Rowland, executive director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, said, "As we lose jobs in the manufacturing sector to jobs in the service economy and small businesses, we're losing the stability of big employers and replacing it with a much more fragile system." She added, "Our uninsured problem is becoming more of a permanent problem instead of a temporary, transitional problem." She said that a higher percentage of U.S. residents without health insurance for more than one year would mean that more people are dying prematurely, "living with greater health risks, more serious illness and a greater burden on society to care for them" (Los Angeles Times, 7/1). The survey is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat to view the survey.