Despite Recession and Rising Unemployment, Rate of Uninsured Did Not Increase, Says Census Bureau Data

September 10, 2009 - 1:52 PM
Even though the nation was in a recession and unemployment rates were rising, the percentage of people lacking health insurance in the United States did not increase during 2008, according to data released today by the Census Bureau.

David Johnson, chief of Census Bureau's Housing and Household Economics Statistics Division (Census Bureau photo).

(CNSNews.com) - Even though the nation was in a recession and unemployment rates were rising, the percentage of people lacking health insurance in the United States did not increase during 2008, according to data released today by the Census Bureau.

The actual number of people lacking health insurance ticked up slightly during the year, but so did the actual number of people who were insured, as the overall population increased from 299.10 million in 2007 to 301.48 million in 2008. There was also a slight movement of people from private insurance into government insurance—including seniors moving into Medicare.

“The number of people without health insurance coverage increased to 46.3 million in 2008 (from 45.7 million in 2007), and the uninsured rate was 15.4 percent, not statistically different from the rate in 2007,”  David Johnson, chief of the Census Bureau’s Housing and Household Economics Statistics Division told reporters in a teleconference this morning.

The statistics were published in a Census Bureau report titled, “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States: 2008.”

“The number of people with health insurance increased to 255.1 million in 2008—up from 253.4 million in 2007,” says the report. “The number of people covered by private health insurance decreased to 201.0 million in 2008—down from 202.0 million in 2007. The number of people covered by government health insurance increased to 87.4 million—up from 83.0 million in 2007.”

An additional 1.6 million U.S. seniors went on Medicare in 2008.  “The percentage and number of people covered by Medicare increased to 14.3 percent and 43.0 million in 2008, from 13.8 percent and 41.4 million in 2007.”  This increase of 1.6 million in Medicare recipients was larger than the 1.0 million drop in people covered by private insurance during the year.

The uninsured rate for children18 years and under declined in 2008 to the lowest level since the Census Bureau has been tracking the number. “In 2008, the percentage and number of children under 18 without health insurance were 9.9 percent and 7.3 million, lower than they were in 2007 at 11.0 percent and 8.1 million,” says the Census Bureau report. “The uninsured rate and number of uninsured for children are the lowest since 1987, the first year that comparable health insurance data were collected.”

The Census Bureau report noted that the current recession started in December 2007--as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. This means that although all of 2008 was a recessionary year, the rate of uninsured did not spike. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate rose from 4.9 percent in January 2008 to 7.2 percent in December 2008.

Of 46.340 million people in the United States who lacked health insurance in 2008, the Census Bureau report says, 9.511 million were foreign nationals and 36.829 million were U.S. citizens.

Among the 46.340 million uninsured, there were also 9.725 million who earned more than $75,000 per year, says the Census Bureau report.

In his speech to Congress last night, President Obama said, “There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage.”

When this quote was cited for the Census Bureau’s Johnson during his teleconference today and he was asked if there was any data in the Census Bureau report that would allow someone to distinguish between people who did not have health insurance because they did not want it and people who did not have health insurance because they could not get it, he said the Census Bureau does not ask people whether they can get or cannot get insurance.

In previous presentations, President Obama has said there are either 46 million or 47 million uninsured “Americans” or “citizens.” 

In an op-ed published in the New York Times on August 15, Obama said, “I don’t have to explain to the nearly 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance how important this is.”

In a July 22 primetime press conference, Obama said there were “47 million Americans who have no health insurance.”

At an August 11 town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., Obama said “nearly 46 million Americans don't have health insurance coverage today” and that “46 million of our fellow citizens have no coverage.”

As the new Census Bureau report released today makes clear (see Table 7 on page 21), there were 35.920 U.S. citizens who lacked health insurance in 2007, and 36.829 million U.S. citizens who lacked health insurance in 2008.

While the overall rate of uninsured in the United States held constant at 15.4 percent between 2007 and 2008, the rate of uninsured among foreign nationals in the country ticked up from 43.8 percent to 44.7 percent during the same period.  This was despite the fact that the actual number of uninsured foreign nationals declined from 9.737 to 9.511.