Lower employer health insurance coverage fuels rising number of uninsured

The decline in the number of employers offering health insurance has led to a rise in the percentage of U.S. residents who are uninsured, according to two issue papers released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation's Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, CQ HealthBeat reports.

The papers use U.S. Census Bureau figures released in August that found the percentage of the population who are uninsured rose from 15.6% to 15.9%, or 46.6 million people, in 2005. The Census figures also show that the number of uninsured children younger than 18 has increased for the first time in seven years (Hopkins, CQ HealthBeat, 10/19). The reports indicate that despite an upturn in the economy, the percentage of U.S. workers covered by employer-sponsored insurance declined from 81.2% in 2001 to 77.4% in 2005 , the Detroit Free Press reports (Detroit Free Press, 10/20). In addition, there was no increase in Medicaid and SCHIP coverage last year to compensate for the decline in employer-sponsored health care, according to John Holahan, director of the Health Policy Research Center at the Urban Institute (CQ HealthBeat, 10/19). Nearly half of the decline in employer coverage between 2001 and 2005 was due to a decrease in employer sponsorship; a quarter of the decline was lost eligibility for workers or dependents; and another quarter was due to an increase in employees not participating in offered coverage. The analysis found that two-thirds of newly uninsured employees between 2001 and 2005 were from low-income families (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 10/19). In addition, the analysis indicates that the number of uninsured U.S. residents parallels a population shift toward the South and West, where there are higher rates of uninsured workers than in other regions of the country (Miami Herald, 10/20). KCMU also released a primer and fact sheet designed to improve understanding of health coverage trends and the uninsured population (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 10/19).

During a briefing co-sponsored by KCMU and the Alliance for Health Reform, public policy experts encouraged lawmakers to seek ways to provide affordable health insurance to all U.S. residents. Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said that public policy efforts should focus on the 15% of U.S. residents who lack health insurance and on sustaining coverage for those who are insured (CQ HealthBeat, 10/20). Jeanne Lambrew, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the rising number of uninsured is "not because people are declining health insurance, it's because people are not being offered health insurance" (Relerford, Cox/Contra Costa Times, 10/20). Lambrew suggested funding increases for programs targeting populations such as low-income residents, children and small businesses (CQ HealthBeat, 10/19). Panelists pointed to Illinois and Massachusetts as possible models for the nation, with programs providing subsidized healthcare and universal health care, respectively (Contra Costa Times, 10/20).

The primer, issue papers and fact sheet are available online.

A HealthCast of the briefing is available online at kaisernetwork.org.

Kaisernetwork.orgThis article is republished with kind permission from our friends at the The Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery of in-depth coverage of health policy developments, debates and discussions. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for Kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Copyright 2006 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.


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