NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 27, 2008

Millions of people in the United States lack health insurance.  Who are they and why are they uninsured, asks Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 47 million Americans are uninsured.  The increase in the number of uninsured is primarily due to immigration and population growth.  When expressed as a percentage of the population, the figure has changed little in the past decade:

  • In 1990s, the uninsured rate fluctuated between 14.1 percent in 1991 to a high of 16.3 percent in 1998.
  • In 2006, 15.8 percent of the population lacked coverage, compared to 16.2 percent a decade earlier.
  • During this same period, the number of people with health insurance coverage rose by nearly 25 million, while the number without health coverage increased about 3.5 million.

Fortunately, spells of being uninsured are mercifully brief, says Herrick.  A Census Bureau report found over 75 percent of periods in which an individual was without insurance ended within 12 months.   Many of those individuals without insurance likely qualify for public coverage but have neglected to sign up because they have not needed to. 

According to a BlueCross BlueShield report:

  • Up to 14 million uninsured adults and children qualified for government programs in 2004, but failed to enroll.
  • Surveys also show that up to one-quarter of the uninsured -- possibly 10 million people -- have turned down employer-sponsored coverage through work.
  • Among households earning less than $25,000, the number of uninsured actually fell by about 24 percent over the past 10 years.
  • That number now stands at about 14 million people.

Source: Devon M. Herrick, "Experts Debate Causes, Cures for Uninsured," Heartland Institute, June 2008.


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