Majority of Americans Would Qualify for Federally Subsidized Health Insurance Under Health-Care Bill

By Adam Brickley | September 3, 2009 | 5:44 PM EDT

Logo for the White House Web site on health care reform, "Reality Check."

( – More than 60 percent of American households would likely qualify for government “affordability credits” under H.R. 3200 – the health-care reform bill currently in the House of Representatives, according to numbers obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A provision in the health-care package would allow the government to offer “affordability credits” to citizens with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. 

Section 242 of the bill outlines which citizens are eligible for “affordability credits” on their health-care plans. Among other things, qualifying individuals must be people “with family income below 400 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of the size involved.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Web site, the term “federal poverty level” is usually used to reference that department’s “poverty guidelines.” However, the Web site cautions that the term is “ambiguous” and “should be avoided, especially in situations (e.g., legislative or administrative) where precision is important.”
According to the HHS guidelines, poverty is defined as an annual income $10,830 for a single individual, $14,570 for a couple, $22,050 for a family of four, and $37,010 for a family of eight.
Using these numbers, 400 percent of poverty level income – the cutoff for “affordability credits” – would be $43,320 in income for a single person, $58,280 for a married couple, $88,200 for a family of four, and $148,040 for a family of eight.
It is not possible using currently available data to determine exactly how many Americans would qualify for these credits under HHS guidelines. However, a rough estimate can be constructed using Census Bureau data, which measures poverty using “thresholds” that are similar (though not identical) to the HHS guidelines.
Using the Census Bureau thresholds, 61.5 percent of Americans have incomes that are 400 percent of the poverty level or less. This figure is based on the Census Bureau’s 2008 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement, which used a sample 78,000 households nationwide.
Data from the survey can be accessed using an online tool provided by the Census Bureau, which allows users to generate customized tables based on the findings. 

While these numbers do not perfectly estimate the number of people who fit the HHS Department’s definition of poverty, they come very close, providing a “better-than-ballpark” statistic. 

For instance, for the year 2008, the average poverty level income for a single individual according to the census bureau is $10,997 per year, which is only $157 above the HHS Department’s poverty level income of $10,830 per year. Likewise the Census Bureau’s poverty level income in 2008 was $37,191 for a family of eight, just $181 above the HHS Department’s poverty level for a family of the same size.