New Census Data Show Rise in Uninsured, Poor

 

The number of Americans without health insurance coverage jumped 1.4 million between 2002 and 2003 to 45 million people, and the total living in poverty rose by 1.3 million to 35.9 million, according to new data released Aug. 26 by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data give a state-by-state snapshot of changes in income, poverty and health insurance coverage across the country. To view the full report, click here.

Texas and New Mexico had the highest rate of uninsured residents, with 24.6 percent and 21.3 percent respectively, while Minnesota, with 8.2 percent, had the lowest rate of uninsured.

Overall, the number of uninsured increased in 20 states and decreased in two: California and Utah.

Nationally, the ranks of uninsured swelled for the third straight year largely because of a drop in employer-based insurance coverage, although that was partially offset by increases in coverage by public health safety net programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the State's Children Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP), according to Daniel Weinberg, chief of the Census Bureau's housing and household economic statistics division.

"There certainly is a long-term trend of firms offering less generous plans. ... And certainly as people lose jobs, there is a tendency for people to have less health insurance coverage," Weinberg said.

Weinberg said he could not comment on the impact that state budget cuts in Medicaid and SCHIP had on states' ability to counterbalance the loss of employer-based health coverage.

One health policy analyst said the new statistics "underscore the importance of protecting the Medicaid program." Kathleen Stoll, health policy director of Families USA in Washington, D.C., said in a statement: "The only silver lining in this year's report is that public programs particularly Medicaid covered more people last year and cushioned the loss of coverage in the private sector."

The spike in uninsured rolls did not surprise health policy experts.

"Though unfortunate, an uptick in the number of uninsured was expected given that the data was gathered last year and reflects the still sluggish economy of that time," U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said in a written statement. "It is also important to understand that these numbers include millions of Americans who are without insurance for a short period of time, usually because they are transitioning from one job to another."

The annual report titled, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003," also found that the nation's overall poverty rate rose by 1.3 million to 35.9 million people in 2003.

The poverty rate decreased in Mississippi and North Dakota, but increased in Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

On the whole, median household income remained unchanged at $43,318.

However, four states Idaho, North Dakota, Washington and West Virginia experienced increases in median household income, while 10 states saw falloffs. Those states were: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas.

The statistics come from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, an annual sample survey of about 100,000 households across the country that's conducted for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Census Bureau also released a different survey called the "American Community Survey: 2003," which examined income and poverty data at a more local level in more than 800,000 households nationwide. To view the ACS report, click here.

 
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