Economic well-being is eroding for most people in America

16% of people in the U.S. were uninsured in 2010 — about 50 million health citizens. What groups were over-represented in the percent of uninsured in America? Black people, Asian people, and Hispanic people; those 18 to 24, 25-34, and 35-44; People in the South and West; and those with household incomes under $50,000, shown in table. The number of uninsured people actually increased from 49 million to 49.9 million people between 2009 and 2010.

Real median household income fell between 2009 and 2010 for both whites and African-Americans. Since 2007, just before the recession hit, real median household income declined 6.4% and is 7.1% lower than the median household income top that occurred in 1999, prior to the onset of the 2001 recession.

These sobering stats are brought to you by the U.S. Census Bureau, in the agency’s annual study, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010. (You can read about 2010 data here in Health Populi).

The Census Bureau talks about The Dynamics of Economic Well-Being based on its Survey of Income and Program Participation — the data from which this study is analyzed. One of the most salient health statistics in the survey is that in 2009, 26.1% of all people in the U.S. experienced at least one month without health insurance coverage. Well-being in the Census’s context is built on a variety of factors, such as possession of consumer durables, housing and neighborhood conditions, and the
meeting of basic needs.

Based on the Bureau’s 2011 analysis in this report, economic well-being has eroded for millions of people in the U.S. Only seniors, people 65 and over, are safe from uninsured status — 16.3% of people 45-64 are uninsured, roughly the same proportion as aggregate America.

Well-being in health insurance terms has also fallen for people who once were insured by private employers. The percent of people covered by employer-based health plans fell to 55.3% in 2010 from 56.1% in 2009. The proportion of private health coverage has been falling since 2001.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: In response to the Census report, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, President and CEO of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said, “We know from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment that not having insurance has a profound effect on an individual’s health and well-being. Oregon residents who were able to enroll in Medicaid increased their use of health care services in appropriate settings, experienced better health and suffered fewer financial strains due to medical expenses.”

Wages for all but the most wealthy people in the U.S. have dropped, and most of the poor in 2011 are workers. 56.7% of the poor are working-age — higher than the 55.5% reached in 2004. When the Census Bureau first recorded poverty shares, working-age adults made up 38.6%.

Well-being includes meeting basic needs. It’s clear from the Census Report that a growing number of people in the U.S. lack health insurance. Is health care a basic need?

This is a question that America’s health citizens have yet to explicitly agree. President Obama’s plans to cut the deficit target health spending, among other budgetary line items. The New York Times wrote that, “President Obama is expected to seek hundreds of billions of dollars in savings in Medicare and Medicaid, delighting Republicans and dismaying many Democrats who fear that his proposals will become a starting point for bigger cuts in the popular health programs.”

These cuts will hit providers – hospitals and doctors alike – which could further erode access to care. And that would impact peoples’ health and well-being far beyond the working poor.


About Jane Sarasohn-Kahn

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn is a health economist, advisor and trend-weaver to organizations at the intersection of health, technology and people. Jane founded THINK-Health after spending a decade as a health care consultant in firms in the U.S. and Europe. Jane’s clients are all stakeholders in health, including technology, bio/life sciences, providers, plans, financial services, consumer products, public sector and not-for-profit organizations. Jane founded the Health Populi blog in 2007, covering health policy, technology, and consumers.
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