HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Number of Uninsured Declines, as Poverty Rate Holds Steady

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Census Bureau has found that the number of people lacking health insurance dropped by more than one million in 2007, the first annual decline since the Bush administration took office.  The Wall Street Journal writes,

Stethescope4The nation's poverty rate held steady at 12.5%, not statistically different from the 12.3% in 2006. That meant there were 37.3 million people living in poverty in 2007.

The median, or midpoint, household income rose slightly to $50,200, marking the third consecutive annual increase.

The statistics released Tuesday don't take into account the consequences of the economic downturn that began late last year. (See Census report.)

Census said 45.7 million people -- 15.3% of the population -- were uninsured in 2007. That is down 3% from 47 million in 2006. The number of people with health insurance increased to 253.4 million in 2007, compared to 249.8 million in 2006.

The number of people covered by private health insurance, 202 million, didn't change appreciably from 2006. However, the number of people covered by government health insurance increased to 83 million, compared to 80.3 million in 2006.

"The gains that occurred last year were welcome, but unfortunately, they are too little, too late," said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist with the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington. "The median household is no better off now than they were back in 2000, despite their deep contribution to the nation's economic growth during this period."

For example, after adjusting for inflation, last year's median household income of $50,233 was not significantly different from the figure for the year 2000, which was $50,557. "The American work force is baking a bigger economic pie, but the slices haven't grown at all," said Mr. Bernstein.

The welcome news on health insurance coverage was tempered by the fact that private coverage continued to erode. Government programs -- such as Medicaid for the poor -- picked up the slack, resulting in the overall reduction in people without health insurance.

"A lot of the fall is due to the increase in public coverage," said David Johnson, who oversees the Census division that produced the statistics. The number of uninsured children also fell in 2007, after an increase in 2006 that had interrupted years of progress in getting more kids covered.

The report, released two days into the start of the Democratic National Convention and a week ahead of the Republican National Convention, comes as the two political parties debate the need for reform of U.S. health insurance policy. (See related section.)

Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) proposes a government health-care plan to cover millions without insurance. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) has put forth a market-driven approach that focuses on revamping the employer-based health-care system by shifting responsibility to individuals.

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The entire drop is due to more public assistance, including Medicaid and SCHIP. Those with private insurance actually declined. I am curious what is happening to the uninsured rate this year with increased unemployment and other market problems.

I wrote a post going over much of this today at

Posted by: Colin | Aug 26, 2008 5:21:36 PM

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