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Number of Uninsured Americans Increases in 2004

AUGUST 30, 2005 -- The number of Americans without health insurance rose 800,000 to 45.8 million in 2004, but the percentage of the nation's population without health insurance remained unchanged at 15.7 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

In addition, the number of people with health insurance rose by 2 million, to 245.3 million, between 2003 and 2004, the government reported.

The Census Bureau also reported that fewer people received health care coverage from their employer in 2004—down to 59.8 percent from 60.4 percent in 2003—while the percentage of people covered by government health insurance programs rose from 26.6 percent to 27.2 percent. The number of Americans enrolled in Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor, increased from 12.4 percent in 2003 to 12.9 percent in 2004.

Analysts said the new figures show that rising health care costs are causing more employers to drop health coverage for workers, who in turn are seeking health coverage from Medicaid and other public programs.

"Health care costs have grown so much faster than wages for so long that an increasing fraction of our workforce cannot afford health insurance as most of us know it," said Len Nichols, director of the health policy program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think-tank. "If not for our low- income Medicaid program, uninsurance would have risen far more."

Robert Greenstein, executive director of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, called Tuesday's figures "disappointing, as they follow three years of successive deterioration in health insurance coverage. It is sobering that 6 million more people lacked health insurance in 2004 than in 2000."

Bill Vaughan, senior health policy analyst with Consumers Union, said the figures should persuade Congress to "immediately rededicate itself to helping all Americans access affordable health coverage. . .The census numbers tell us what we've known for years—that soaring health care inflation is making health insurance unaffordable, so more folks go uninsured, and those who can afford it find their policies cover less and less," Vaughan said.

Kathleen Stoll, health policy director of the consumers group Families USA, said the rise in the number of uninsured Americans should cause the Bush administration to reconsider its plan to reduce the growth of Medicaid spending by $10 billion over the next five years.

"Cutting Medicaid funding puts the most vulnerable children, seniors and people with disabilities at risk of joining the ever-growing ranks of the uninsured," she said.
Karen M. Ignagni, president and chief executive officer of America's Health Insurance Plans, a group representing health care insurers, said the industry has offered several approaches to help expand access to health insurance, such as tax credits, high-risk pools and improvements to government programs.

To help reduce the number of uninsured, Ignagni also urged lawmakers to "focus on reforming the medical liability system, aligning incentives with the quality of care delivered and ensuring the delivery of care that is based on the best scientific evidence."

Other highlights of the Census report include:

  • The proportion and number of uninsured children did not change in 2004, remaining at 11.2 percent or 8.3 million.
  • The Midwest had the lowest uninsured rate in 2004 (11.9 percent), followed by the Northeast (13.2 percent), the West (17.4 percent) and the South (18.3 percent).
  • The uninsured rate in 2004 was 11.3 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 19.7 percent for blacks, both unchanged from 2003. The uninsured rate for Asians declined from 18.8 percent to 16.8 percent.
  • The uninsured rate for Hispanics was 32.7 percent in 2004, unchanged from 2003.
  • The proportion of foreign-born population without health insurance was 33.7 percent, unchanged from 2003, but the rate for the native-born population increased from 13.0 percent in 2003 to 13.3 percent in 2004.

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