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Catholics, others give

perspectives on new

health insurance data

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- New statistics on health insurance, poverty and income released Sept. 10 by the U.S. Census Bureau “affirmed the economic and moral arguments President Obama made (Sept. 9) about our nation’s need for good, meaningful health reform,” according to the president of the Catholic Health Association.

“As 46.3 million people went without any health insurance last year, median household income dropped 3.6 percent between 2007 and 2008, creating greater challenges for hard-working families. This explains clearly why the president and many in Congress have been highlighting how middle-class families so urgently need reform,” said Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is the CHA’s president and CEO, in a Sept. 10 statement.
“As we know too well by now, losing health insurance -- especially during a recession -- comes with an enormous financial and human cost for families, communities and our nation as a whole,” she added.
According to the census report, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2008,” the 46.3 million without health insurance represented an increase from 45.7 million the year before. Americans who had health insurance at any point during the year were counted as having health insurance.
The number of Americans with health insurance also increased. Part of that was due to the U.S. population increasing, according to David Johnson, chief of the Census Bureau’s Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, who led a Sept. 10 briefing on the figures, compiled from information collected in early spring for the bureau’s 2009 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.
Also, “the number of people with private insurance fell while the number with government insurance rose,” he said, including an estimated 3 million children who got health insurance through Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The number of uninsured children declined from 8.1 million (11 percent) in 2007 to 7.3 million (9.9 percent) in 2008, according to the Census Bureau, the lowest figure since data on children started being collected in 1987. Children were the only age group where the rate of the uninsured went down, although Johnson said they were still “less likely to be insured” than adults.
Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, in a Sept. 10 statement offered an example of the strains that Catholic Charities faces in helping the uninsured.
“In Pittsburgh, Catholic Charities’ free health care center is adding about 100 patients per month,” he said. “According to Diane Redington, the clinic’s administrator, the kind of people they are seeing tend to be new people who were not uninsured before.
“It’s scary for them; they’re not used to asking for help,” Father Snyder said. “There are also more than 800 people on a waiting list for the center’s dental program.”
The Census Bureau’s Johnson said 30 percent of all children without health insurance live in households making less than $25,000 a year.
The percentage of Americans who get health insurance as a job benefit has declined each year this decade, from 64.2 percent in 2000 to 58.5 percent last year.
The numbers are likely to get worse before they get better. The affordability of health care may become more of an issue as median U.S. household income dropped 3.6 percent from 2007 levels, the first drop since 2004, the biggest since 1991, and what Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute called the steepest drop for the first year of a recession since the Census Bureau started compiling these statistics following World War II.
Further, last year’s average unemployment rate was 5.8 percent, Mishel said during a Sept. 10 conference call with reporters. This year, he said, unemployment will average about 9 percent.
The 2008 poverty rate was 13.2 percent, up from 12.5 percent in 2007, with 39.8 million Americans now in poverty last year-- up 2.6 million from the year before.
“The Census Bureau findings and the president’s speech emphasized what we already know: that the time is now for health reform legislation that is uniquely American and works for all the nation’s people,” Sister Carol said in her statement.

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