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How Many Americans Really Go Without Health Insurance?

Health Insurance Statistics You Need to Know

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As Congress crawls closer to its consideration of the America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, a bill that would require virtually all Americans to be covered by either private or government administered health insurance, you will increasingly hear a bleak statistic stating that 46 million Americans are without health insurance. Really?

While just one American without health insurance is too many, and caring for uninsured Americans contributes to the soaring cost of health care, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that implementing the Health Choices Act will cost more than $1 trillion and add $239 billion to the federal deficit by 2019. At a cost like that, statistics on the uninsured should be looked at closely. An analysis in American Spectator reveals some interesting points about the issue of a nationalized health insurance plan. Here are some highlights:

Health Care vs. Health Insurance
Health care is not the same as health insurance. Everyone in the U.S. - including those illegally in the U.S. -- is guaranteed access to basic health care. Under a 1968 federal law, all patients seeking care in hospital emergency rooms must be given a minimum level of treatment, regardless of their ability to pay or health insurance status. The law applies to all hospitals that participate in Medicare -- which most do - and requires the hospitals to provide initial patient screening, life-saving and "stabilizing" emergency care and transfers to advanced trauma centers, if needed. Those services must be provided without asking about the patient's ability to pay. Of course, the growing demand on hospitals to provide this minimum level of free care contributes to rising health care costs.

Health Insurance Not Always a Financial Savior
People with health insurance are far from immune to soaring health care costs. In a June 30, 2009 article, the New York Times reported that, "An estimated three-quarters of people who are pushed into personal bankruptcy by medical problems actually had insurance when they got sick or were injured."

Number of Uninsured is a Quickly Moving Target
In his nationally televised press conference on July 22, President Obama stated, "If we don't act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day." While this figure may be accurate, not all of those 14,000 people will lose their insurance permanently. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that over the course of every year millions of Americans lose their health insurance, but only temporarily. Most people become uninsured because they lose or leave their jobs and regain insurance coverage when they return to work. In 2007, the Census Bureau reported that 253.4 million people -- about 85 percent of the total population -- did have health insurance.

The Citizenship Factor
According to Census Bureau data, of the estimated 46 million "Americans" without health insurance, more than 10 million are non-U.S. citizens.

Some Just Don't Want Insurance
Many young workers, whose employers do offer it, simply do not consider health insurance. According to the Census Bureau, 18.3 million of the uninsured are under age 34.

Under the Affordable Health Care Choices Act, health insurance will be mandatory. Individuals who fail to carry adequate coverage will face a tax penalty of 2.5 percent of their adjusted gross income, capped at the national average premium for individual basic coverage.

The Affordability Factor
In 2007 the Census Bureau reported that more than 14 million people without health insurance earned annual incomes of at least $50,000, with 7.2 million of them making over $75,000.

In December 2007, the Association of Health Insurance Plans issued a report showing that nationwide annual premiums for private health insurance policies averaged from $2,613 for individuals to $5,799 for families.

Existing Government Health Care Plans Not Being Used
A 2003 Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association study concluded that, "More than 14 million uninsured Americans are already eligible for health insurance through Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)." These people could automatically be signed up for these programs by seeking care at a hospital. In addition, a Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute study shows that 7 out of 10 uninsured children could be covered if their parents chose to sign up for existing government programs.

Quick Summary of the Health Care Reform Bill
The Affordable Health Care Choices Act of 2009 aims to see to it that 97 percent of the U.S. population has health insurance by 2015. The bill creates a public health insurance option called an "exchange" operated through state-based "gateways" which would act as marketplaces where individuals and businesses could shop for health insurance. The bill requires all individuals to have health insurance or face tax penalties. Businesses that do not provide health insurance for their employees would be required to pay 8 percent of their total annual payroll into the public health insurance exchange system. The bill bans insurance companies from denying coverage or increasing premiums because of pre-existing health conditions. For a more detailed look at the bill, see Key Provisions of the House Healthcare Bill by Deborah White, Guide to Liberal Politics.

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