Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Health Insurance Numbers: Uglier Than They Look

The Census Bureau released health insurance numbers for 2008 today. On the surface it appears that things haven't gotten much worse, and that for children they've gotten better. On the surface.

You really need to dig a little deeper than what's presented to get the whole picture and understand that, in addition to all the personal insurance horror stories out there, there is also the national horror story of how millions of people in our country, more than the entire population of Canada, lack health coverage.

If you look at the insurance rate changes by age group, you quickly see that the picture is not at all rosy. Children's insurance did indeed improve -- about 800,000 fewer uninsured children and a drop of 1.1 points in percentage uninsured from 2007 to 2008. Great! (And you can give grudging thanks to the terrible horrible no-good very bad gov'mint bureaucrat-ruled Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program). (But note -- 7.3 million children under 18 -- 8.1 million if you include the 18-year-olds, lack coverage and that's considered a major improvement!).

Elderly rates also improved marginally -- but they were very good to begin with (due to that other awful government-run scary socialist Obama-like Medicare program). 1.7% of the elderly were uninsured in 2008 as compared to 1.9% in 2007 (not a statistically significant difference).

For all other age groups, that is all groups within the category "non-elderly adults," things got worse. Over all, for people aged 18 through 64, the percentage uninsured went from 19.6 (pretty bad already) to 20.3%. And the number of uninsured non-elderly adults increased by 1.5 million. Just think, more than one out of every 5 people between the ages of 18 and 64 was uninsured in 2008.

Now isn't that interesting -- the two age groups with a "public option" (limited for children to the lower income children who are eligible for either Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program) had stable or improved coverage, while the group reliant on employer & private coverage fared badly. Gee, do you think that could possibly mean that government-run programs might actually work?

So the improvement in children's coverage masks how bad things are for the non-elderly adults -- people like the woman I just talked to on the phone who said "I'm in that funny age group, no longer working at a salaried job with benefits and too young for Medicare. My insurance premiums have just doubled and I don't know if I can keep affording to pay for health insurance."

What we really have is a steadily worsening health coverage picture for the adult population. That picture is different for the young and old only because of much maligned public safety-net programs (and for children, this is a very limited safety net). From where I stand, a "robust public option" looks pretty damn good!

Read it all here.

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