- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The ranks of the uninsured swelled by 2.4 million last year as health insurance costs continued rising and more Americans lost their jobs and coverage.

The number of people without health insurance the entire year rose to 43.6 million, a jump of almost 6 percent from 2001 and the second consecutive annual increase, the Census Bureau said in a report prepared for release today. The percentage of Americans without health coverage rose from 14.6 to 15.2.

The bureau reported a survey last week that found more people fell into poverty and median income declined in 2002, even though the recession officially ended in November 2001.



Reflecting the broad scope of the recession and its aftermath, significant increases in uninsured rates occurred among whites, blacks, people ages 18 to 64, and middle- and higher-income earners. Rates increased in all regions of the country except the West.

A survey released this month from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health policy research group, found that private health premiums increased 13.9 percent between 2002 and 2003. A family policy, on average, cost $9,068.

Loss of coverage stemming from layoffs and scaled-back benefits was primarily to blame, Census Bureau analyst Robert Mills said. In 2002, 61.3 percent of U.S. residents were covered under an employment-based policy, down from 62.6 percent in 2001.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson noted that the uninsured rate for children was relatively unchanged at 11.6 percent. Expansions in coverage in two programs aimed at covering the poor and children — Medicaid and the state Children’s Health Insurance Program — “helped ease the impact of the economic slowdown,” Mr. Thompson said.

John Holahan, a health care policy expert at the Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank, said that hasn’t helped lower- and middle-income adults who have lost jobs but are ineligible for public assistance.

“When you have a system that’s so dependent on employers, it’s hard to expect employers to maintain health insurance when they are trying to maintain their business,” Mr. Holahan said.

The 6 percent rise in uninsured people marked the biggest jump since a 9 percent increase between 1991 and 1992. However, Census Bureau officials warned that data before and after 1999 were not fully comparable because of survey changes.

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