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Who Are the Uninsured?
Health insurance protest
August 21, 2009

The film CRITICAL CONDITION puts a human face on how three families face illness without health coverage. There are 47 million Americans without health insurance. But who are they? The great battle being waged over whether health insurance coverage should be mandatory for Americans has led to fallacies about who is uninsured and underinsured.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation offers these five facts about the uninsured.
  • Most of the uninsured are in working families and do not have access to employer-sponsored insurance.
  • More than eight in ten of the uninsured are in low- or moderate-income families.
  • Most low- and moderate-income uninsured adults are not eligible for Medicaid.
  • The uninsured suffer from negative health consequences due to their lack of access to necessary medical care.
  • Medical bills are a burden for the uninsured and frequently leave them with debt.
Additional facts from POV'S CRITICAL CONDITION site:
  • 80% of the uninsured are adults. Young adults (ages 19-24) are at greatest risk of being uninsured and make up more than one of every three uninsured adults.
  • The majority of uninsured adults (75%) have gone without coverage for a period of at least one year.
  • The average total annual cost of employer-sponsored family coverage in 2007 was $12,106 — seldom affordable to low-wage workers without sizable contributions from their employers.
The Recession and Business Climate

The recession and the ever-increasing costs of employer-provided insurance to both business and employees have created additional stress.

A recent study shows that based on the effects of the recession alone (not job loss), it is projected that nearly seven million Americans will lose their health insurance coverage between 2008 and 2010. (T. P., Gilmer and R. G. Kronick)

Even if employees are offered coverage on the job, they can’t always afford their portion of the premium. Since 1999, health insurance premiums have increased 119 percent for employers and employee spending for health insurance coverage (employee’s share of family coverage) has increased 117 percent between 1999 and 2008.

Rapidly rising health insurance premiums are the main reason cited by all small firms for not offering coverage. Health insurance premiums are rising at extraordinary rates. While, the average annual increase in inflation has been 2.5 percent, health insurance premiums for small firms have escalated an average of 12 percent annually. (The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Employee Health Benefits: 2008 Annual)

The Costs of No Insurance

POV's CRITICAL CONDITION site tallied up the costs of the uninsured:
  • The lost productivity of uninsured Americans costs the economy up to $130 billion dollars a year — more than the estimated cost to cover the uninsured.
  • Covering the bills of the uninsured increases the annual health premiums for the average family by $922.
  • Hospitals typically charge uninsured patients 2.5 times what they charge privately insured patients.
  • Uninsured adults are 4.5 times more likely to go without medical care than insured adults.
  • Uninsured cancer patients are nearly twice as likely to die within five years as insured patients.
  • Over half a million Americans are currently battling cancer without insurance.
  • Among non-elderly adults, the lack of health insurance is the sixth leading cause of death in America.
Stories from the edge of health care

JOURNAL guest and former CIGNA executive Wendell Potter, visited a "medical expedition" in Wise, Virginia, run by the non-profit organization Remote Area Medical (RAM). Thousands of people lined up in the night to get free treatment. You can learn more about RAM and watch Web-exclusive video from the event on our site.

Related Media:
Medical practitionersWendell Potter
With almost 20 years inside the health insurance industry, Wendell Potter saw private insurers hijack our health care system and put profits before patients. Now, he speaks with Bill Moyers about how those companies are standing in the way of health care reform. (July 10, 2009)

Medical practitionersMarcia Angell and Trudy Lieberman
Bill Moyers sits down with Trudy Lieberman, director of the health and medical reporting program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and Marcia Angell, senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School and former editor in chief of the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE. (July 24, 2009)

Medical practitionersRobert Reich
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich sits down with Bill Moyers to talk about the influence of lobbyists on policy, the economy, and the ongoing debate over health care. (June 12, 2009)

Medical practitionersReforming Health Care
Washington's abuzz about health care, but why isn't a single-payer plan an option on the table? Public Citizen's Dr. Sidney Wolfe and Physicians for a National Health Program's Dr. David Himmelstein on the political and logistical feasibility of health care reform. (May 22, 2009)

References and Reading:
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
The Kaiser Family Foundation is the starting point for in-depth research on health and health care in the United States. Among their recent studies are a video on rising health care pressures due to recession and a "fast fact finder" on requiring health insurance companies to cover all applicants regardless of pre-existing conditions.

Also from KFF: Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured

Employer Health Benefits 2008 Annual Survey

Health Coverage & the Uninsured: Profile of the Uninsured

MEDICAID and the Uninsured (PDF)

The Uninsured: A Primer (PDF)

Hard Times And Health Insurance: How Many Americans Will Be Uninsured By 2010?, Health Affairs Web Exclusive, May 28, 2009)

The Web site from PBS POV's presentation of the film has a wealth of interesting features including an interview with Roger Weisberg, an audio conversation about the economics of health care, and a comparison of the proposals put forward by presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.

See what has come of the reform efforts with The Kaiser Family Foundation's Side-by-side comparison of the major health care reform proposals.
Assembled and frequently updated by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Following the Money: Health Care
Use this BILL MOYERS JOURNAL guide to trace campaign contributions, ad spending and the revolving door between industry and government.

The Health Care Reform Plans
Use this BILL MOYERS JOURNAL guide to follow the debate over the many different health care plans.

Also This Week:
Filmmaker Roger Weisberg puts a human face to the 47 million uninsured in America in CRITICAL CONDITION. The film follows families fighting illness without health coverage.

What are the costs in dollars and premature death?

The film MONEY-DRIVEN MEDICINE reveals how a profit-hungry “medical-industrial complex” has turned health care into a system where millions are squandered on unnecessary tests, unproven and sometimes unwanted procedures and overpriced prescription drugs.

Complete coverage of health care on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.
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