NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

HEALTH REFORM FAILURE

September 18, 2007

In 1966, before Medicare and Medicaid were launched, 47 million Americans were uninsured.  By 1975, the United States had reached an all time low of 21 million without coverage.  Now, according to the Census Bureau's latest figures, we're back where we started, with 47 million uninsured in 2006.  But this time, most of the uninsured are neither poor nor elderly, say Steffie Woolhandler and David U. Himmelstein, co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program and primary care doctors at Cambridge Hospital.

This time, the middle class is being priced out of health care, say Woolhandler and Himmelstein:

  • Virtually all of this year's increase was among families with incomes above $50,000.
  • Two-thirds of the newly uncovered were in the above-$75,000 group.
  • Full-time workers accounted for 56 percent of the increase, with their children making up much of the rest.

The new Census numbers are particularly disheartening for anyone hoping for a Massachusetts (state-run health care) miracle, say Woolhandler and Himmelstein:

  • In the Commonwealth, 651,000 residents are uninsured, 65 percent more than the figure used by state leaders in planning for health reform.
  • Their numbers came from a telephone survey done in English and Spanish; which misses people who lack a land-line phone -- 43.9 percent of phoneless adults are uninsured, according to other studies.
  • It also skips over the 523,000 non-English speakers in Massachusetts whose native language isn't Spanish, another group with a high uninsurance rate.

In sum, Massachusetts health reform planners have been wishing away a quarter of a million uninsured people.  Recent Patrick administration claims that health reform is succeeding are based on cooked books.  According to the state's figures, almost half of the previously uninsured gained coverage under the health reform bill by July 1.  But according to the Census Bureau, the new sign-ups amount to less than one-quarter of the uninsured.

Source: Steffie Woolhandler and David U. Himmelstein, "Health reform failure," Boston Globe, September 17, 2007.

 

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