Bracing figures from the Census Bureau: 47 million Americans (15.8 percent of the population) lack health insurance, up from 44.8 million last year. And the number of uninsured children rose for the second consecutive year--after years of steady decline. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Most of the problem with health insurance were traceable to the continued erosion of employer-based healthcare coverage. The percentage of people covered by employer plans decreased to 59.7% of the population in 2006, down from 60.2% in 2005.
Of particular concern, the number of uninsured children rose for the second year in a row, after a long period in which it had been steadily declining, thanks to the expansion of government health coverage. More than 600,000 children joined the ranks of the uninsured in 2006, a change that the Census Bureau called statistically significant.
"The increase in the uninsured rate [for children] can be attributed to the decline in private coverage," said David Johnson, chief of the Census Bureau division that produced the statistics.
The news about uninsured children comes as the Bush administration and Congress are deadlocked over a plan to renew and expand a popular federal-state partnership that provides health insurance for children of the working poor. Known as Healthy Families in California, the State Children's Health Insurance Program insures about 6 million children nationally. But it will expire Sept. 30 unless President Bush and Congress can come to terms.
Bush has proposed a small increase for the $5-billion-a-year program, one that independent analysts say will not be enough to maintain the current levels of coverage. A Senate-passed plan would cover about 3 million more children over five years, while a House version would extend coverage to 5 million more children. Bush has vowed to veto both bills.
Yesterday, the New York Times editorialized on the subject:
The challenge to the White House and Congress seems clear. Theupward trend in the number of uninsured needs to be reversed becausemany studies have shown that people who lack health insurance tend toforgo needed care until they become much sicker and go to expensiveemergency rooms for treatment. That harms their health and drives upeveryones health care costs.
The most immediate need is toreauthorize and expand the expiring State Childrens Health InsuranceProgram. It has already brought health coverage to millions of youngAmericans. It should be reinvigorated to bring coverage to manymillions more.
Not to worry, the American Medical Association (AMA) is on it, as its recent ad campaign, "Voice of the Uninsured," makes clear. Last Thursday, the New York Times ran a heartstrings-tugging full-page ad from the AMA. "One out of seven of us doesn't have health insurance," its headline announced. "But we all have a voice. And a vote." Below that headline was a photo of a middle-aged black woman holding a stethoscope up to her mouth as though it were a microphone. And at the bottom of the page, the campaign's Web site: VoiceOfTheUninsured.org. Sounds positively empowering, doesn't it?
"One out of seven Americans is uninsured," the Web page repeats. "This isn't just a statistic. It's a tragedy." Indeed it is, so why would the AMA's proposals (PDF) track so closely with President Bush's inadequate plan? Laden with reassuring verbiage emphasizing the importance of "freedom," "choice," "security," the AMA's ad campaign seems to be a rather impressively executed bait-and-switch.