News and Commentary

For Now, at Least, Fewer People Lack Insurance

The Census Bureau says the number of uninsured Americans dropped in 2000, for the second year in a row — a trend many experts doubt will continue, thanks to a weakening economy.

The number of uninsured dropped from 39.3 million in 1999 to 38.7 million. Fourteen percent of the population was uninsured in 2000, compared with 14.3 percent in 1999.

In addition, the number of uninsured children dropped, by 693,000, to 8.5 million; the number of poor children without insurance dropped, by 248,000, to 2.5 million. The number of low-income adults without insurance declined to 9.2 million, from 10 million in 1999.

The good news was fueled by an increase in enrollment in health coverage that is sponsored by employers. The number of people with employer-sponsored benefits rose by more than 3 million, to 177 million, according to the Census Bureau.

The bad news, though, is that the economy has been slowing. "I expect to see an increase in the number of uninsured in 2001 because people have been losing their jobs," says Kate Sullivan, director of health care policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Philadelphia Inquirer cites a report from the Center for Studying Health System Change, which says that in 2000, health costs increased by 7.2 percent — the largest increase in 10 years — and health premiums increased 11 percent.

There are indications that the Bush administration, though preoccupied with the war on terrorism, is forging a strategy for health issues. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson tells Congress Daily that legislators may still find a way to address a number of health care initiatives.

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