A worrisome trend is expanding in the United States — one that sees a record number of individuals stuck in the void of having no health insurance. According to a new Census Report, 46.6 million citizens had no access to health insurance last year. That figure represents 16% of the population, which is up from 15.6% in 2004, when there were 45.3 million people living without insurance.
Some of that inflated statistic can be attributed to more companies opting out of health insurance plans in anticipation of the federal system that was rolled out the first day of 2006. But the drop wasn’t too considerable, with 59.8% of Americans having plans through an insurer in 2004 and 59.5% in 2005. The rate of decline has a second factor, which is privately purchased health care plans. That number has also dipped.
People receiving insurance under government plans, Medicare and Medicaid, rose to 80.2 million in 2005 from 79.4 million in 2004. That did not change the percentage of people covered by federal health insurance, which stayed stagnant at 27.3%. Nearly 20% of children under the poverty line had no health insurance in 2005, making them the most likely segment of society to lack insurance.
This record-high number of people — as well as the fact that it increased from one year to the next — isn’t normal. Over a dozen years ending in 1998, the rate of uninsured Americans wasn’t statistically different than the year before, or had it increased extremely marginally. It even fell for two years after that to 14.2% in 2000. Since then it’s been on a slow increase, reaching its peak in 2005.
Experts suggest that the rising numbers are indicative of a country wide health care insurance problem. They’ve been tracking employer-based coverage for years, watching it drop to lesser and lesser rates. It appears to be the leading cause of the current lack of health care plans being held by Americans, meaning people are working just as hard as before, but losing their coverage. The rise occurred smack- dab in the middle of economic growth too, which in a way highlights the disparity between the haves and have-nots.
In truth, everyone in North America should have access to health care coverage that is affordable. The key, experts say, is that over the years the course that must be taken is some kind of combination between private and public coverage. It makes economic sense for workers to be healthy (and thus productive). Some states are taking steps, such as some New England states that are trying to pass laws to head toward universal coverage. Other states are expanding their existing coverage.
Something needs to be done for the millions of people who are uninsured and unable to pay for expensive, potentially lifesaving treatments. Critics call the current situation a “crisis.”