By Zac Auter
Gallup News, October 20, 2017
The percentage of U.S. adults lacking health insurance rose in the third quarter of 2017 to 12.3%, up 0.6 percentage points from the previous quarter and 1.4 points since the end of 2016.
The uninsured rate, measured by Gallup and Sharecare since 2008, had fallen to a record low of 10.9% in the third and fourth quarters of 2016. However, the 1.4-point increase in the percentage of adults without health insurance since the end of last year represents nearly 3.5 million Americans who have entered the ranks of the uninsured.
Several marketplace factors could be contributing to the growth of the uninsured rate since 2016. Some insurance companies have stopped offering insurance through the exchanges, and the lack of competition could be driving up the cost of plans for consumers. As a result, the rising insurance premiums could be compelling some Americans to forgo insurance, especially those who fail to qualify for federal subsidies.
Uncertainty about the healthcare law also may be driving the increase. Congressional Republicans’ attempts to replace the healthcare law may be causing consumers to question whether the government will enforce the penalty for not having insurance.
The uninsured rate has increased at least one point among all key demographic subgroups since late 2016, except for those aged 65 and older. The growth has been concentrated mostly among middle-aged Americans, racial minorities and lower-income Americans.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
The uninsured rate of U.S. adults, at the end of last year, was 10.9%. Since then it has increased to 12.3%, representing a net of nearly 3.5 million Americans who have entered the ranks of the uninsured. This increase in the numbers of uninsured, in spite of the Affordable Care Act, provides us with two important lessons.
The politicians that we elect play a very important role. Americans have chosen leaders who believe that reducing government spending is more important than ensuring health care for all. Thus we have seen a targeted effort both in Congress and especially in the Trump administration to reduce government subsidies of health care. If you don’t mind seeing more Americans, especially racial minorities and those with low incomes, going without affordable access to health care, then keep electing the same politicians. Those who do care (the majority) need to become more involved in political activism.
The other even more important lesson is that the infrastructure of the financing system is absolutely crucial. Right now we have a highly fragmented system which allows manipulation to favor both the vested interests and the political ideologues. This study showed that the only group that did not have at least a one point increase in the uninsured was those aged 65 and older – Medicare!
Medicare is a highly stable social insurance program that belongs to everyone as an entitlement. It is ours; we earned it. The politicians currently in control are telling us once again that Medicare is going broke, and we have to do something about that, but fortunately over the last half century the program has remained resistant to their attacks. Their agenda this year includes premium support (vouchers) which would be very damaging to the program since they chisel away government support. But as long as Americans keep defending Medicare, it should always be there for us.
The obvious conclusion is that we should improve Medicare so it works better, and then expand it to include everyone. Contrast that to the expansion program we are supporting today – ACA – as we watch 3.5 million Americans lose their coverage!
When the politicians in public forums answer questions about single payer by telling us that single payer may be in the future but for now now we have to keep supporting ACA, remind them that their response to the decline in coverage is to add copper plans that pay only half of average medical costs (bipartisan Alexander-Murray legislation), just so they can say more people are insured – though that is a sure path to a skyrocketing rate of medical bankruptcies. Copper plans should fit well with our outrageous deductibles, with our empty health savings accounts, with our loss of choice through narrow provider networks, and with our unaffordable premiums that support such egregiously excessive administrative costs. They want more of that?!
It seems that boos and catcalls have lost their impact. Maybe it’s time to revitalize the Bronx cheer. Yes, that’s rude, but what could be more rude than them telling us that we should be thankful that they are going to try to get us copper plans.
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