Census Bureau Report: Health Insurance Coverage Slips Again

The U.S. Census Bureau yesterday released its annual report “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005.” It’s not pretty. There are now at least 46.6 million Americans living without health insurance.

The number is up 1.3 million over 2004 and it means that the percentage of Americans without health coverage increased from 15.6 percent of the population to 15.9 percent. During the Clinton years, when health care was something we pretended to care about, Congress and the White House designed a program called State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). It was funded through the Social Security Act and administered through the states (which led to wildly varying rates of coverage—but that’s another story for another post.). The funding was for FY 1998-2007 (which means it’s due to expire next year). The program significantly improved coverage for children over several years, but this year’s data found the trend line going the other direction: between 2004 and 2005, the percentage of children without coverage rose from 10.8 percent to 11.2 percent of those under 18. It’s only a one-year number, but it’s a bad one.

So, why should you care? Forget the Biblical call to justice for the poor. (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Psalm 146:7-8; Luke 4:18-19). I don’t expect that one to resonate very far. Well here’s a selfish reason: those 46 million people live sicker and die younger than you and I do. And we pay for them through our own increased health care costs (hospitals have to charge somebody—that somebody is you and me). People without health care insurance still seek out health care, only they do it later and more expensively, often through emergency room visits instead of primary health care visits.

The Census Bureau had very little other news that was good in the report. There was a slight increase in median household income, (1.1 percent) but there did not offset a far more ominous trend: a severe long-term drop in median household income (to $46,242 last year from $49,133 in 1999). As Harold Meyerson writes in The Washington Post,

“Ours is the age of the Great Upward Redistribution. The median hourly wage for Americans has declined by 2 percent since 2003, though productivity has been rising handsomely. Last year, according to figures released just yesterday by the Census Bureau, wages for men declined by 1.8 percent and for women by 1.3 percent.

“As a remarkable story by Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt in Monday’s New York Times makes abundantly clear, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of gross domestic product since 1947, when the government began measuring such things. Corporate profits, by contrast, have risen to their highest share of the GDP since the mid-’60s — a gain that has come chiefly at the expense of American workers.”

Even the official government news outlet, Fox News, couldn’t spin it very well: “The last decline in the poverty rate was in 2000, during the Clinton administration, when it dropped to 11.3 percent. With the poverty rate steady but median household income rising, ‘that could represent an increase in inequality’ between the wealthy and the poor, said David Johnson, chief of the Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division of the Census Bureau.”

While we are busy building a free-market utopia on the blood-soaked deserts of Mesopotamia, our own nation continues to rot.

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