NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 8, 2005

Over 43 million Americans are said to lack health coverage. This statistic is often cited as evidence that there is a large subset of the country's population that has little or no access to health care. Many say that the crisis will only get worse if some action -- typically government-funded or government-mandated health care coverage -- is not taking immediately.

But the facts are somewhat different, argues Bob Newbell, a primary care physician in Alabama:

  • The figure is dynamic, not static; the uninsured population is fluid, with many people gaining and losing coverage.
  • In 1998, between half and two-thirds of the people who experienced a period of time without insurance had coverage for other portions of the year.
  • Though the statistic tells us how many uninsured Americans there are, it doesn't say who they are, which is an important distinction.
  • The persistently uninsured are mostly young (39 percent are under age 25, and another 22 percent are under age 35) or healthy (86 percent report their health to be good, very good, or excellent).

Moreover, there appears to be a tendency to regard health insurance and access to health care as synonymous, but it is inaccurate and misleading to equate health insurance with access to nominal or even emergency medical services, says Newbell.

In fact, such access is guaranteed by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986 at any hospital taking part in Medicare, and 85 percent of patients who visit the country's emergency departments have insurance and 70 percent have incomes above the poverty level.

There are undeniable flaws in our health care system, contends Newbell, but such flaws cannot be properly addressed if the problems are defined by statistics that are inflated or considered out of context.

Source: Bob Newbell, "About Those Uninsured Americans..." Tech Central Station, July 25, 2005.

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