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COVERAGE: Understanding the Census Bureau's Estimates of the Number of Uninsured

August 26, 2008 - 12:17pm

The news out of the Census Bureau this morning indicates that more Americans had health insurance in 2007 than in 2006. But a closer look at the numbers reveals that our health care system is on an unsustainable path.

The percentage of Americans covered by private coverage—employer sponsored and individually purchased—actually declined. At the same time the number and percentage of Americans enrolled in public coverage, especially Medicaid, increased. In other words, a weakened economy and rising health care costs have led fewer Americans to buy private insurance and more Americans to turn to the government for safety net coverage. Let's keep in mind, however, that the numbers released today are for 2007, before the economy really took a turn for the worse. Therefore, we can expect the reduction in private coverage enrollment and increased dependence on Medicaid to be magnified in 2008. This path places increasing strain on local, state, and federal governments who are already grappling with tough budgetary constraints.

Bottom line: a decrease in the number of uninsured Americans from 47 million to 45.7 million should not distract us from the underlying fact that our current system is unsustainable, that private coverage is decreasing, and state and local governments are faced with higher and higher health care bills.

There is no question that comprehensive health care reform is a moral issue, but we must also remember that a more sustainable health system is an important step towards securing our nation's economic future.

For more information about the Census Bureau's data, click here.

For more information on New America's reports and research on the uninsured, click here.