In a recent interview with Tufts Daily — “the independent student newspaper of Tufts University” — former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) disputed that 47 million Americans lack health insurance coverage:
Where do you get the number 47 million? When you watch CBS, they may tell you that number. However, 11 million of that total are illegal immigrants. Ten million more are people who can buy their own insurance. Finally, another 10 million are people your own age who think they are never going to get sick or hurt and are not vulnerable. However, we do have a lot of people that need insurance, and we need to take care of it. I am working now with the same group I mentioned above to have a bipartisan solution to health care. The plan needs to be as universal as possible, and affordable. In addition, it has to be available. We need a way of solving this, without the government doing it all.
Fourteen years after denying the crisis and stonewalling comprehensive health care reform, Dole is still trying to downplay the problem of the uninsured. In fact, Dole’s suggestion that more than half of the uninsured lack insurance because they are either illegal immigrants, young people, or or ‘believe they are never going to get sick or hurt’ deeply misrepresents the crisis.
In fact, most people lack insurance because they can’t afford it. A new report by Families USA found that since 2000, the average cost of family coverage increased by 78%, from $6,672 to $12,078 in 2007, while wages only increased by 15% over this same seven-year period.
As premium growth outpaces wage growth, the nearly two-thirds of the uninsured who are poor or nearly poor, are having difficulty finding affordable coverage. “What the numbers seem to be showing is the slow fraying of the employment-based system, and the fundamental bedrock issue is that insurance is increasingly unaffordable, just not affordable for average working people,” Drew Altman, the president and chief executive officer of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation says.
Despite Dole’s suggestion, immigrants are also not the primary factor driving the uninsured problem. While “non-citizens are much more likely to be uninsured than citizens” because of limited access to employer based health care coverage and restrictions for public coverage, citizens still make up “the bulk of the uninsured (78%)“:
Further, the majority (76%-80%) of the growth in the number of uninsured from 2000 to 2006 occurred among citizens, not legal and undocumented non-citizens.
Last year, the Economic Policy Institute released a graph illustrating this very point. Even if immigration was frozen at the 2000 level, the country would have still experienced an increase in the number of uninsured:
Understating the breadth of the crisis will not bring down the costs of insurance. Uncompensated care for the uninsured contributes an average $922 to family health insurance premiums, and the growing number of Americans skipping preventive care and doctors visits only adds to the countries health care tab (in the form of more expensive chronic disease management etc…). Currently, health care spending makes up “$1 out of every $6 in the economy, dwarfing automobiles and all other economic segments” and represents the “single most important factor influencing the Federal Government’s long-term fiscal balance.”
Denying the problem, is no longer an option.