One In Four Americans Have No Health Insurance, Study Finds
April 20, 2012

One In Four Americans Have No Health Insurance, Study Finds

More than a quarter of US adults went without health insurance in 2011 because of lost work, a change in jobs, or Medicaid ineligibility, according to a new report released Thursday, April 19.

With the fate of healthcare reform emerging as a key campaign issue in this election year, the Commonwealth Fund report shows the need for improvements in the healthcare system as close to 70 percent of working-age adults who lost their insurance went without coverage for more than a year, and more than half remained uninsured for two years or more.

And those with low to moderate incomes were the most likely to have longer periods with no insurance. Researchers said the percentages equal about 48 million uninsured Americans when measured against US Census data.

People quickly disconnect from the healthcare system when they lose coverage. Doctor visits and health screenings tend to drop rapidly. The results paint a disturbing picture of the $2.6 trillion US healthcare system at a time when the country is in the midst of record unemployment rates.

The gaps in health insurance coverage were a major factor in President Obama´s controversial healthcare overhaul signed in 2010. His Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act seeks to close the gaps in health insurance beginning in 2014 by extending coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans, either through subsidized state insurance markets or an expansion to the Medicaid program for the poor.

But that reform is facing stiff opposition and could be overturned by the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds before the end of June. It is also receiving calls for repeal from Republican candidates running in this year´s presidential election campaign.

But the uninsured numbers will only continue to rise if the government cannot fix both the healthcare system and find ways to bring jobs back to American working-age citizens.

The Commonwealth Fund survey, conducted last summer, was based on responses from a randomly selected sample of 2,134 adults ages 19 to 64, and reflected continuing effects from the economic recession.

The survey found that more than 40 percent of those who lost insurance had been covered by employer-based plans. Another 18 percent were dropped from Medicaid plans, and 27 percent had never been insured.

The study found that after losing insurance, people had a difficult time finding coverage on their own. Almost a third of those who lost their insurance and sought new coverage within the past three years were charged a higher price, or were denied because of pre-existing medical conditions, or for other reasons. Nearly half of those who lost their employer-sponsored plans said they never bought a new plan, mainly due to cost.

“For people who lose employer-sponsored coverage, the individual market is often the only alternative, but it is a confusing and largely unaffordable option,” Commonwealth Fund vice president Sara Collins, lead author of the survey, said in a press release. “As a result, people are going a year, two years, or more without health care coverage, and as a result going without needed care.”

Employer-sponsored insurance is the US healthcare market´s leading mainframe, covering healthcare needs for some 150 million working-age Americans. But employer coverage has become increasingly more expensive in recent years, prompting many companies to reduce benefits or raise the costs of premiums for their workers.

If President Obama´s law holds up in Congress, it is slated to guarantee health insurance coverage to all Americans beginning in 2014, when insurance companies will no longer be allowed to exclude people with pre-existing medical conditions. Those with low and moderate incomes would be able to get subsidies to help buy their plans.

The Commonwealth Fund predicts that the coverage gaps would close if and when the new law takes effect. However, it remains unclear if the coverage expansion will ever happen if the Supreme Court and Republicans have anything to say about it. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney-R said he will repeal the law if he is elected president in November.

Collins said her organization will continue to track the respondent sin the survey to monitor how they are faring after major provisions of the Affordable Care Act are implemented.