Uninsured ranks swell as Congress works…

Our need for health care coverage that doesn’t vanish when the jobs vanish becomes ever clearer each month, as the number of newly unemployed piles up. Given the mounting jobless toll – and subsequent swelling of the uninsured population — it’s a wonder that debate lives on over whether reform is needed.

Surely, by now we all know someone who has been stripped of their livelihood in this recession. Surely, by now most of us feel that, there but for the grace of God, go I.

Yet Congress members are willing to entertain scaling back health care reform’s figurative big tent of coverage, accepting that millions more than first envisioned may be left out in the cold, uninsured.

At least one prominent commentator with a substantial soap box believes this is absurd, and devoted an entire hour-long program this week to telling TV audiences that everyone, everyone deserves health care. For MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, the argument is black-and-white. The host of Countdown suspended his news format Wednesday for a soliloquy on his viewpoint that all Americans should have access to quality, affordable care.

Moved by helping care for his ailing elderly father, Olbermann deemed it flat-out unfair that those with means — like himself – had access to quality care, while others without means were shut out of access. The episode is worth watching, if only to witness the passion of his argument.

Meanwhile, matters are worsening in real time, as joblessness continues to broaden the problem Congress is trying to solve. The elephant in the room is getting bigger by the day, so to speak.

A new report by Families USA calculates the impact of the economy’s double whammy on the workforce. Titled “One-Two Punch: Unemployed and Uninsured,” the report seeks to update U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2008 that were recently released and widely reported:

“Given the close link between unemployment and uninsurance, and given the marked increase in the unemployment rate between 2008 and 2009, we estimate that the number of uninsured working-age adults (19-64) today is substantially higher than the Census Bureau’s 2008 estimate.”

In California, the number of uninsured working-age adults in 2008 was 5.4 million, or 24.3 percent of the population. Families USA expects that number to rise to 6.1 million, or 26.7 percent, when 2009’s job-shedding is taken into account.

The new report says California’s unemployment rate has already grown 4 percent, from 7.2 percent in 2008 to 11.3 percent through August 2009 (the 2009 figure is calculated by averaging the jobless rate from January through August.)

By the end of 2009, California will have “suffered the largest numerical loss in health coverage among working-age adults” of all the states, Families USA says. The organization projects that loss at 661,600 adults. Texas is second-worst with a loss estimated at 396,900, and Florida has the third-worst loss, with 297,600 losing coverage.

That elephant in the room? Families USA projects that by the end of the year, the uninsured ranks nationwide will plump up from 46.3 million to 50 million. Pity Congress: It’s not easy to negotiate a solution to a problem that continues to expand as compromises are being crafted.
Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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