Left Uses Uninsured to Grind Axes

Published March 15, 2003

Three of the most powerful liberal advocacy groups in the country – the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Families USA, and the Commonwealth Fund – are proclaiming the week of March 10-16th as “Cover the Uninsured Week.”

The proclamation uniting some 100 national organizations states, “We recognize the urgency of seeking solutions to one of America’s greatest problems and hereby declare our support of Cover the Uninsured Week.” There will be town meetings, campus teach-ins, health fairs and distribution of a 53-page study written by Families USA.

No one argues the uninsured population is not a major social issue, but by exaggerating and misrepresenting the causes of being uninsured, this campaign seems designed to advance the thread-bare liberal reform agenda of price controls, insurance mandates, and expanding Medicaid, rather than actually helping the truly needy uninsured.

Families USA’s study claims an eye-popping 74.7 million people under the age of 65 in the United States went uninsured “for all or part of a two-year period from 2001 – 2002.” The head of Families USA uses this number to call for “real and meaningful action to expand health coverage.”

This new estimate of the number of uninsured is meaningless. Anyone who was uninsured even briefly during this 2-year period gets added to the “uninsured” population. It’s like calling “unemployed” anyone who took a week or month off between jobs, or “homeless” anyone who moved from one house to another. Simply removing the 26.2 million people who were uninsured only for 1 to 5 months reduces the uninsured figure to 48.5 million.

The more commonly cited estimate of the number of people without insurance for some length of time in a single year is 41 million. Even this number is suspect, in that emerging studies indicate about half those people were uninsured for a period of only three months or so, with the balance being chronically uninsured because of medical conditions, economic conditions, or by voluntarily choosing to be self-insured.

A current report by The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association finds of the 41 million uninsured, more than 14 million are eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan, but have not enrolled. More than 15 million have incomes of $50,000 or more and would purchase insurance if they thought it valuable, but choose not to. The fastest growing population of uninsured people are earning an income upwards of $75,000.

According to the Blue Cross study, 5.7 million are short-term insured, such as recent college graduates or people between jobs. The report also indicates 5.2 million uninsured are in three states with a high number of illegal immigrants: California, Texas and New York.

Do these numbers suggest the need for expanding Medicaid to middle-income families, imposing new regulations on health insurers, or violating the patent protections of drug manufacturers . . . all reforms advocated by the groups that are bringing us “Cover the Uninsured Week”? Hardly.

The ensuing benefit and procedural mandates would waste billions of dollars solving the wrong problem and would most likely miss the very population needing the most help. Just as importantly, they would undermine a private health insurance marketplace that offers the best hope of solving the real problems afflicting the nation’s health care finance and delivery system.

There are four viable solutions to the uninsured problem: Expanding high-risk health insurance pools for the medically uninsurable; repealing coverage mandates that encourage people to go without insurance; making medical savings accounts permanent and more flexible; and passing individual tax credits for the uninsured and unemployed.

Unfortunately, the powers behind “Cover the Uninsured Week” oppose each of these reforms.

For further information, contact Heartland Public Affairs Director Greg Lackner at 312/377-4000, 773/489-6447. email [email protected]