As the cost of health care continues to rise, more and more Americans are living without health insurance–over 46 million in 2005, according to U.S. Census data. And, while most of us falsely believe the uninsured are also unemployed, that is no longer the case.
Statistics show that the majority of uninsured Americans are two-parent families, at least one of whom works full-time. So why are they uninsured, since nearly two-thirds of our country’s non-elderly have the benefit of employer-offered health insurance?
Most say they simply can’t afford it, either because their employers don’t supplement the bulk of the expense or they don’t make enough to buy insurance themselves. Either way, it seems they’re left with only two options: apply for public assistance or live without health care entirely.
A Closer Look
To better understand the effects of living without health insurance, let’s take a closer look at the uninsured, courtesy of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Here are some findings from a 2005 report on the uninsured:
- More than 8 in 10 of the uninsured are workers or their dependents.
- Because Medicare covers many older Americans, most of the uninsured are under age 65.
- They tend to be employed and making less than $20,000 per year.
- Members of minority groups are disproportionately represented among the uninsured.
- The majority have gone without insurance for two or more years.
Why Are They Uninsured?
- Too expensive (64%)
- No employer-sponsored coverage (8%)
- Don’t want or need it (8%)
- Change in employment (7%)
- Ineligible for public assistance (2%)
- Pre-existing condition/pregnancy (1%)
- Unemployed (1%)
- Undergoing family status change: divorce, death, etc. (1%)
As these statistics indicate, most Americans are uninsured not by choice, but rather by circumstance.
The Lasting Effects
The consequences of living without health insurance can be dire:
- Lack of routine health care, resulting in late diagnosis and treatment
- Lower quality emergency care, increasing the chance of death
- Higher mortality rates in otherwise preventable diseases
- Financial strain and debt from medical bills
- Lack of maternity care, resulting in higher mother and infant mortality rates
Though millions face these consequences every day, many can be helped. By getting involved in their communities, understanding our health care system and how it works, and talking with local insurance agents-some of whom specialize in low cost insurance for the needy-many of our nation’s indigent can find needed care without sacrificing their health.
Making a Change
Our health care system appears broken. And though congress and special-interest groups are working hard to help those who are falling through the cracks, change takes time. Meanwhile, the uninsured go without routine checkups and much-needed care, or find the help they need through government assistance programs-passing the cost along to those who are insured.