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Even when the economy was growing, 46 million people in America did not have any health insurance. Since the recession began, an estimated 4 million additional Americans have lost their health insurance and 2 million have become uninsured. The recent turmoil in the job market is likely increasing the number of uninsured at the rate of 14,000 a day. And yet, congressional conservatives opposed efforts to stop the erosion of our health care system and help millions of Americans hold on to the coverage they have or get it for the first time.
As many as 14,000 Americans are losing health coverage each day
Many Americans did not have any health insurance even before the recession began. During the six years of the last economic expansion, the number of uninsured Americans grew by 7 million, reaching 46 million in 2007.
That number is almost certainly higher today because the economy has lost 3.6 million jobs since the start of 2008. A one percentage point rise in the national unemployment rate causes 2.4 million people to lose employer-sponsored health coverage, according to Urban Institute researchers. Of these people, 1 million rely on Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program and 1.1 million end up uninsured.
Since the Census Bureau’s figures for uninsured Americans were collected in the spring of 2007, the unemployment rate has grown from 4.4 percent to 7.6 percent. As a result, an estimated 3.5 million people have lost their health insurance and are now uninsured.
Moreover, the loss of coverage is accelerating. The unemployment rate grew by 0.8 percentage points in December and January alone, implying that nearly 900,000 people became uninsured in these two months. That’s about 100,000 people a week, or 14,000 people a day. The rapid growth in the number of uninsured Americans will continue as long as the job market remains in a free fall.
The number of newly uninsured would be much higher if it weren’t for people enrolling in Medicaid and CHIP. Rising unemployment rates since the last Census report imply that an additional 3.2 million Americans now rely on Medicaid or SCHIP. Congress recently provided more resources for Medicaid and CHIP, but if it had not, states would have been forced to cut eligibility for these programs. Without federal assistance, many people now on Medicaid or CHIP would likely become uninsured as well.
Conservatives oppose steps to protect coverage for nearly 40 million Americans
With 14,000 people losing health insurance every day, expanding coverage is an urgent challenge. In recent weeks, President Barack Obama and Congress have enacted a series of investments in health care that, together, will cover or help protect the health coverage of 38 million people.
These measures include:
- Protecting the coverage of approximately 20 million people receiving coverage through Medicaid. Hard times increase demand for this safety-net program at the same time that falling tax revenues force states to make budget cuts. The economic recovery package provides $87 billion to prevent cuts in eligibility.
- Covering 11 million children through the CHIP program, including continuing funding for 7 million children and expanding eligibility to cover an additional 4 million children.
- Helping 7 million unemployed workers and families continue their health coverage by subsidizing premiums through the COBRA program.
Preserving and expanding health care coverage is also one of the most effective ways to create jobs and boost the economy. Providing additional Medicaid funds to states is consistently rated one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy. CHIP funds can boost the economy quickly because states already have programs in place. What’s more, nearly all health care dollars are spent within the United States.
Not everyone supported these efforts to strengthen the health care safety net, despite the measures’ effectiveness at helping vulnerable families and boosting the economy. Thirty-two senators and 134 conservative representatives voted against all of these health care investments. The voting records of these members of Congress are described in tables 1 and 2.
Addressing the economic crisis facing the United States requires action on many fronts, including boosting economic activity, restoring the financial services industry to health, and addressing the rising tide of home foreclosures. The crisis of the uninsured is another urgent economic challenge. Congress has already moved rapidly to shore up coverage for millions of families. Now, the time is right for health reform that covers everyone and reduces the growth of health care costs.
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