How many uninsured are there?
Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Here’s a better question: How many people will experience uninsurance in the future?
We need to be thinking of uninsurance as a condition–one that can (and will) impact us all–as opposed to a population–one that can be minimized and marginalized.
Most estimates of the uninsured are for a specific point in time, or over the course of only one year. When just looking at a two-year period, far more people–nearly 1 in 3–find themselves uninsured, as Families USA has calculated using Census data. And for every day they are uncovered–and most of them are uncovered for more than six months–they are likely to not get care and/or face the risk if not the reality of financial ruin. One trip to the emergency room without coverage can mean thousands of dollars of unexpected bills.
For those who say that two years is too long a period to evaluate, please let our Congress know–as they are busy fretting about the ten-year cost of health reform. If we are going to calculate the ten-year cost, we ought to calculate the ten-year benefit, of how many Americans will be prevented from falling into uninsurance, preventing the gaps that are disruptive to both quality care and a family’s financial stability.
President Obama understands this: This weekend, he cited a new Treasury Department report that indicates about half of non-elderly Americans went uninsured for some portion of 1997-2006. With the continuing erosion of coverage without health reform, the number who would benefit by not having such a gap in coverage over the first ten years of health reform is likely well over half the country. That’s not a problem, or a benefit, to minimize.
My post goes on (and on!) to rebut the range of attacks on the number of 46.5 million uninsured that was recently updated by the U.S. Census Bureau last week. It’s a bad sign for the debate when we are arguing about basic facts. But it also shows that health reform opponents don’t even have a good sense of the actual problem–much less how H.R.3200 and other health reforms will solve it.