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That 40+ Million Uninsured Number is Back

Reporting on a White House Council of Economic Advisers report linking health care cost reductions to improved economic performance, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carolyn Lochhead notes: “The cost of expanding coverage to the nation’s 46 million uninsured is the biggest hurdle.” That 40 some odd million number of uninsured is often bandied about when health care is in the news. For example, when HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently promoted health care reform, the AP put the number of uninsured Americans at 48 million. Whether the number is 46 or 48, the statisitc is highly misleading. Here’s why:

Numbers in the 40-million range regularly used by proponents of health care “reform” are based on reports from the Census Bureau which show, for example, over 45 million people “not covered” in 2007. However, these numbers are extremely misleading for several reasons, and the difference is critical not simply as a debating point but as a context for appropriate government policy changes.

  • The Census Bureau itself says that “Health insurance coverage is likely to be underreported…” (See Appendix C of THIS report) For example, “16.9 percent of people with an MSIS record indicating Medicaid coverage reported…that they were uninsured.”
  • According to Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute, “as many as 12 million uninsured Americans are eligible for Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program–but they haven’t signed up.”
  • More than half of the uninsured are between 18 and 34 years of age, a group which has relatively few expensive health issues and for whom self-insuring (paying their own medical bills) makes sense. Only 14% of people over the age of 55% are uninsured.
  • Over 9 million of the “uninsured” have household incomes over $75,000.
  • Roughly 30% of the uninsured are without insurance for less than 6 months (though this statistic will likely worsen during the current recession).
  • And finally, estimates are that between 7.5 million to over 10 million of the uninsured (15% of them or more) are illegal immigrants.

The number of chronically uninsured people who would prefer to have insurance but can’t afford it is likely 10-12 million people, or one quarter of the number often repeated by the media. Reporters who cite the 48 million number without providing a full context do their readers a great disservice.