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Statement from Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis on U.S. Census Data on the Uninsured

New data released by the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that 46.6 million Americans lacked health insurance in 2005, an increase of 1.3 million over the 45.3 million uninsured in 2004. Since 2000, the number of uninsured Americans has increased by 7 million. This rapid growth in the number of uninsured is cause for concern, as more American families struggle with medical bills and debt, lack access to health care, and experience unsafe, fragmented, and inefficient care. The number of uninsured adults ages 18–64 who were employed during the year increased from 26.5 million to 27.3 million—an increase of 0.9 million. The proportion of the population covered by employer-based plans continued to erode, falling from 59.8 percent to 59.5 percent. These findings indicate that our health system does not work well for far too many American families. Results from the Commonwealth Fund Survey of Public Views of the U.S. Health Care System released earlier this month underscore that the majority of Americans believe the U.S. health system is in need of reform:

  • Three-quarters (76%) of working-age adults say the health care system needs either fundamental change or complete rebuilding. Just 20% said only minor changes are needed.
  • Large majorities of both the uninsured (83%) and insured (76%) support major changes in the current system.
  • Two-fifths (42%) of working-age adults report that they experienced poorly coordinated, inefficient, or unsafe care at some time during the past two years.
  • Economic stresses related to health care are moving up the income ladder. About half (48%) of adults in middle-income families ($35,000 to $50,000 annual income) report serious problems paying for health care and health insurance. One-third of families with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 a year and one-fifth with incomes over $75,000 report serious medical bill problems.

These findings point to the need for a national solution to ensure that all Americans have affordable and comprehensive health insurance coverage and access to needed health care. A healthy, productive labor force is an important investment in the economic strength of our nation. In the absence of immediate federal action, some states and localities have stepped up with innovative solutions. Massachusetts, and Vermont have enacted laws to move toward universal coverage. Other states have enacted coverage expansions, such as New Jersey's law to raise the age limit of dependents eligible for coverage under their parents' plans. These measures can serve as models for other states, or even the nation, as we seek solutions to the crisis of millions of uninsured.

For additional information, contact: Bethanne Fox, (301) 576-6359 or Jacki Flowers, (301) 652-1558

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