The number of people who are uninsured in this country ranges from about 44 million to about 47 million, depending on which article you read. These numbers can be shocking and perhaps become even more shocking when one realizes that this is approximately 16 percent of the U.S. population.Proponents of the current private health coverage system, however, like to break those numbers down, and there is some merit in that. A cooperative study between the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and the Actuarial Research Corporation broke down the 2004 census statistics about the uninsured like this:
Of the 44.7 million people registered as uninsured, one third could be reached through programs like Medicaid or the SCHIP program, which helps insure children.
Of the total uninsured population, one-fifth may be able to afford health insurance, as they earn more than $50,000 per year. Upon first glance, this may seem like pretty compelling evidence, but the same study states that half of the people registered as uninsured likely cannot afford health insurance.
These numbers are still shocking, as they mean that more than 20 million people in the United States cannot afford health insurance. And it is only getting worse as the prices for health coverage continue to inflate. In fact, the number of people registered uninsured since 2000 has risen by 7 million people. Between 2004 and 2005 alone, the number rose by 1.3 million.
Being uninsured has dire consequences for both people and the economy. Of course, the argument for people is easy: There are millions of Americans out there who cannot afford the healthcare they need. This is a moral issue, and while I believe that millions of people not having access to healthcare is a huge problem, if someone does not believe this, I’m not likely to convince him otherwise.
There are, however, similar consequences for the economy of the U.S. Millions of people cannot get preventative care, which means that their conditions worsen. Once the health problem is life threatening, doctors are obligated to treat it, whether the patient has health insurance or not. Hospitals pay $34 billion every year treating the uninsured for preventable illnesses.
That kind of spending is taking a toll on the economy. In 2005, healthcare spending came in at 16 percent of the gross domestic product of the U.S. Countries such as Canada and France — who provide health insurance to every citizen — spent 9.7 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively.
Less spending doesn’t lead to worse care, either. In a study of the number of preventable deaths in a country per year by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, France ranked best with only 64.8 deaths per 100,000 people. Canada came in fourth. Where was the U.S. on the list? Absolutely last, with 109.7 deaths per 100,000 people.
Ellen Nolte, one of the researchers of the study, attributed the low ranking of the U.S. to the millions of uninsured citizens.
So where am I going with this? The U.S. needs to figure out some way to get every single citizen health insurance coverage. Private insurance companies just aren’t cutting it any longer, and we need some sort of universal healthcare policy in the United States to ensure proper healthcare is available to every citizen.