NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Myths & Realities Of Health Insurance

November 4, 1999

Americans are debating what to do about the 44 million people in the U.S. who do not have health insurance and are not enrolled in government health programs like Medicaid. The issue is complicated by a number of myths about health care and insurance, says Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson.

The realities of the uninsured are much different from the myths, says Samuelson. For instance:

Myth: Health insurance is necessary to get health care.

Reality: Average health spending on the uninsured is about 60 percent of spending on the insured, according to economist Sherry Glied of Columbia University.

Myth: Stingy businesses have increased the ranks of the uninsured by refusing to cover workers.

Reality: Although employer-based coverage dropped from 62 percent of the population to 57 percent between 1987 and 1993, it has since rebounded to about 62 percent.

Myth: Government health programs are shrinking.

Reality: Although welfare rolls have dropped 40 percent since 1996, many low-income working women with children remain eligible for Medicaid, and perhaps a third to a half of the 11 million uninsured children qualify for Medicaid or the new Children's Health Insurance Program.

Myth: The health of the uninsured would improve if they were insured.

Reality: More insurance would improve the overall health of Americans only modestly, since two-fifths of the uninsured are ages 18 to 35 and another quarter are children -- both of which are relatively healthy groups -- and genetics and behavior apparently count for more than medicine in determining health.

Source: Robert J. Samuelson, "Myths of the Uninsured," Newsweek, November 8, 1999.


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