- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

U.S. families will pay an average $922 extra for their health insurance this year, according to a new health report.

That equates to an extra $341 on average for consumers who are covered by a company health insurance plan, accord-ing to the report released yesterday by Families USA, a Washington consumer health group that advocates universal health care coverage.

The reason for the increase is health care costs from uninsured Americans.

“This is the first time that we have quantified what the impact is for businesses and for workers in terms of paying for the care of the uninsured,” said Executive Director Ron Pollack, adding that no other report has been done to calculate the costs consumers pay for uninsured patients.

The number of uninsured U.S. residents is expected to jump to 48 million by the end of the year, according to the report. In 2003, 45 million U.S. residents were uninsured, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

While they pay for more than one-third of their medical costs out-of-pocket, the remaining amount uninsured patients cannot pay is expected to hit $43 billion this year.

One-third of that tab probably will be reimbursed through federal and state government programs like Medicaid, with the rest being placed on insured consumers, the report said.

If no changes are made to the health care system by 2010, the number of uninsured consumers is forecast to reach 53 million, pushing up the health care costs not paid by the uninsured to more than $60 billion.

U.S. families in 2010 are projected to pay an average $1,502 more for uninsured consumers, Mr. Pollack said.

The increase in insurance rates varies by state, with families in states with large numbers of uninsured residents, such as New Mexico and Texas, paying at least $1,500 more this year because of uninsured consumers.

Maryland families will pay $948 more this year on health insurance rates, while families in Virginia will pay an additional $734, according to the report.

The report’s data came from the Census Bureau, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the National Center for Health Statistics.

The majority of the uninsured population is employees, or family members of workers, at companies that do not offer health insurance, according to the report.

“What we’re seeing is a reduction in coverage in the private sector, with more employers feeling that the costs are unbearable,” Mr. Pollack said, adding that illegal immigrants are a “tiny” portion of the nation’s uninsured population.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a Washington advocacy group, countered that one out of every four uninsured consumers in the United States is a legal or illegal immigrant.

“Talking about the uninsured population without mentioning immigration is like talking about the trade deficit and not mentioning China,” said FAIR President Dan Stein.

“It’s the major factor for the underlying growth in the uninsured population,” he said.

The report did not endorse any government program or health insurance product to reduce the nation’s number of uninsured consumers.

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