NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 5, 2007

The Census Bureau recently announced that 47 million people in the United States lack health insurance.  But the truth is, there are not 47 million U.S. residents who have no way of obtaining it, says Michael F. Cannon, director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Other recent surveys put the number of uninsured between 19 million and 36 million. And all those estimates include people who could obtain coverage:

  • As many as 20 percent of the "uninsured" are eligible for government health programs, so in effect they are insured.
  • On top of that, economists Kate Bundorf of Stanford University and Mark Pauly estimate that as many as 75 percent of the uninsured can afford to buy insurance.

Make no mistake, America has an uninsured problem, says Cannon. But simply expanding coverage -- as many have proposed -- would have little effect on the quality of care, health disparities, or how long we live, nor would it stop free-riders from shifting costs to others. In fact, expanding coverage through government regulation or tax-and-transfer programs would make our problem worse.

If we want to increase access to health care, our first priority must be to contain costs, says Cannon.  President Bush's reforms, including extending the tax break applying to employer-controlled coverage to individually purchased coverage, would help create more than 200 million cost-conscious consumers.  And as it happens, it would also cover a lot of the uninsured.

Source: Michael F. Cannon, "Fix health care by making Americans care about costs," USA Today, September 5, 2007.


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