- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2002

About 1.4 million more people were without health insurance last year as the recession increased unemployment and forced businesses to scale back benefits, U.S. Census Bureau figures show.
Roughly 41.2 million people, or 14.6 percent of U.S. residents, lacked health coverage for all of 2001, compared with 14.2 percent the previous year, according to bureau estimates being released today.
The share of the population covered by private, employment-based plans declined from 64 percent to 63 percent last year. "That was the principal cause of the overall decrease," bureau analyst Robert Mills said.
Reflecting the broad impact of the recession, rates of uninsured rose across all income levels, as well as among full- and part-time workers and U.S.-born residents and immigrants.
Still, the percentage of children without health coverage declined slightly, from 11.9 percent to 11.7 percent, a sign that more lower-income families and children may have picked up coverage through government programs.
Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill noted in a statement that the number of people with health insurance rose by 1.2 million, to 240.9 million, but said: "Far too many people still lack access to health insurance." He listed initiatives the government has under way to increase access. "We will continue to be tireless in our efforts," Mr. O'Neill said.
Kate Sullivan, director of health care policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the numbers indicate the need to help more small businesses provide health insurance.
"It's time to create more employer options for health plans and to give those who purchase coverage on their own the same tax advantages as those who receive it through their jobs," she said.
About one-third of Hispanics were without health insurance for all of 2001, compared with 20 percent of blacks or Asians, and about 10 percent of whites.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson urged Congress to approve a Bush administration plan that the secretary said would provide more access to health care to those most in need.
President Bush "is proposing more community health clinics, health credits and more freedom for states to extend insurance to those who need it," Mr. Thompson said. "As this new report shows, we simply cannot afford to wait any longer."
Democrats have been critical of the Bush proposal to give tax credits to help people buy health insurance.

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