Posted on Friday, September 17, 2010
The Census Bureau’s latest report on poverty and health insurance coverage is bleak. With millions of Americans out of work, it could hardly be otherwise.
Census BureauThe record number of people last year without health insurance — 50.7 million, up from 46.3 million in 2008 — provides stark evidence of why the country desperately needs the health care reforms enacted in March. It is also another reminder of why government safety-net programs, despite all of the recent demagoguery, are so essential in times of trouble.
The report details the recession’s huge human toll. The number of people living in poverty last year climbed to almost 43.6 million, up from 39.8 million in 2008. The percentage of people living in poverty also climbed — to 14.3 percent, the highest rate since 1994. Poverty was defined as pretax cash income below about $22,000 for a family of four.
Federal assistance kept the damage from being even worse. Expanded unemployment benefits helped keep three million families above the poverty line. Food stamps and tax credits helped ease the pain for millions.
The driving force for the huge jump in the number of uninsured was a 6.5 million drop in private health care coverage as employers laid off workers or eliminated health benefits. The percentage of people covered by employment-based health insurance dropped to 55.8 percent in 2009 from 58.5 percent the previous year. That is the lowest level of employer coverage since 1987.
Again government programs picked up some of the slack. Medicaid, in particular, performed yeoman work, covering many of the laid-off workers with low incomes. That put a further strain on state budgets.
The new health reform law will ease these problems. It will greatly expand Medicaid for the poor (mostly at the federal government’s expense) and will provide subsidies to middle-income people to help buy policies on new insurance exchanges. Most of these changes start in 2014, but some measures, such as tax credits to help small businesses cover their employees, will help people retain coverage right now.
These latest dismal numbers from the Census Bureau underscore why health care reform is vital. And they show, once again, why Republican vows to repeal it are exactly what the country doesn’t need. NYT