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Number of Uninsured Hits New High, Census Shows

The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that 47 million Americans had no health insurance in 2006, an increase of more than 2 million from the previous year. Health correspondent Susan Dentzer discusses the growing problem.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Today's new census report boils down the health care affordability crunch into cold, hard numbers. The number of Americans without health insurance keeps rising, but last year so did household income. Here to discuss the reasons why and the policy implications of these findings is Susan Dentzer of our Health Unit. The unit is a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    So, Susan, a 5 percent increase in the number of uninsured, why?

  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    Gwen, what we see is that, five years into an economic recovery and expansion since the recession of 2001, and six years of rising health uninsurance numbers, we see that basically what's happening is the performance of the economy and workers' wages and what's going on in health insurance are wildly different tracks.

    Health insurance premiums are still rising about 7 percentage points a year; that's more than double workers' wages and more than double the rate of inflation. So what's happening is that health insurance is becoming increasingly unaffordable for many Americans. Concomitant with this, many businesses are dropping health insurance coverage because they find it unaffordable.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So it's unaffordable for Americans and for the people who they work for?

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Exactly, for businesses who are in many cases providing, contributing towards that coverage. In fact, in this most recent set of data, we see that fewer than 60 percent of workers now are covered by employer-provided insurance, 59.7 percent.

    So what's happening is that health insurance is becoming more expensive, less affordable. Employers are dropping coverage. And as a consequence, what we see out the other end is 2.2 million more Americans uninsured in the most recent year, a total of almost 9 million more Americans now uninsured since 2000.