Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Physician Group Decries 1.3 Million Rise in Uninsured

Uninsured Ranks Swell as Private Coverage Deteriorates Middle-Class Losing Coverage at Fastest Rate
14,000 Doctors: “National Health Insurance is the Only Solution”

CHICAGO - August 30 - Responding to newly-released data from the U.S. Census Bureau showing that the number of uninsured Americans increased by 1.3 million in 2005, members of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) condemned the sharp increase in the number of uninsured and called for a national health insurance program to provide comprehensive coverage to all Americans.

The number of uninsured rose from 45.3 million in 2004 to 46.6 million in 2004 (15.9 percent of the population), the fifth straight year of increases. The number of uninsured has increased by 6.8 million since 2000. The number of uninsured children rose from 7.9 million in 2004 to 8.3 million (11.2 percent of all kids) in 2005, despite continued expansions of the Medicaid and SCHIP programs.

“Virtually all of the people who lost their coverage were solidly middle-class, full-time working American citizens,” said PNHP co-founder Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Additionally, there are the tens of millions more whose insurance is so skimpy they’d be bankrupted if they got sick. The mainstream of America is suffering.”

The Physicians’ group noted that the large increase in the number of uninsured Americans was a result of the continued erosion of employer-based coverage. A million full time workers lost their coverage between 2004 and 2005 (in 2005, 21.5 million of the uninsured worked full-time). The proportion of Americans covered by employer-based coverage continues to plummet, from 63.6 percent in 2000, to 59.8 percent in 2004, and 59.5 percent in 2005.

Almost all the rise in the uninsured was in families with incomes over $50,000 per year; there was a modest decline in the number of uninsured poor, those families with incomes under $25,000 per year (partly due to the expansion of public coverage to another 857,000 people). The number of uninsured people making between $50,000 and $75,000 per year rose the fastest, by 600,000 people, to 8.3 million (14.1 percent of this income group). Additionally, the number of uninsured making over $75,000 rose by 800,000, to 8.7 million.

“The number of uninsured is going to continue to climb as long as health care costs continue to rise unchecked,” said Dr. Don McCanne, senior health policy fellow for PNHP. “We can no longer afford the waste and inefficiency, the high overhead and outrageous executive salaries of the private insurance industry.”

Hispanics continue to be hardest hit among minorities. The number of uninsured Hispanics increased from 13.5 million in 2004 to 14.1 million in 2005. 32.7 percent of all Hispanics are uninsured, compared with 19.6 percent of Blacks (7.2 million people), 17.9 percent of Asians (2.3 million people), and 11.3 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

“Lack of coverage among Hispanics is the greatest health disparity issues for the Latino population” said Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, Director of the Center for Health of Urban Minorities at Columbia University. “Band-aid solutions are clearly failing the Latino community and are no longer tolerable. Already, eleven Latino Congressmen have signed on to The National Health Insurance Act (HR 676) and a growing list of Latino organizations and groups are calling for such reforms. Most recently, the National Hispanic Medical Organization, representing 36,000 licensed Hispanic physicians in the U.S., expressed their support for National Health Insurance.”

The doctors’ group said that the only solution to the rising number of uninsured and underinsured is a single-payer national health insurance program, publicly financed but delivered by private doctors and hospitals. Such a program could save more than $400 billion annually in administrative waste, enough to provide high-quality coverage to all and halt the erosion of the current private system. On Monday, the California Assembly voted 43-30 in favor of a statewide single-payer program.

“The mainstream of American is now experiencing the human suffering that results from being uninsured. It makes any illness a potential economic and social catastrophe,” said Dr. Woolhandler. “The Administration’s proposed reforms fail to address the systemic problems of the health system. Health savings accounts and schemes like the Massachusetts plan will only intensify the failure. By contrast, the experience of other industrialized nations teaches us that high-quality, comprehensive care can be provided to all our citizens without increasing health spending. A single-payer national health insurance system has emerged as only solution to the nation’s health system debacle.”


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