New Census Numbers: Public Health Programs Are A Lifeline For Americans Who Can’t Afford Coverage

healthcaresymbol2.jpgWhile conservatives continue to fear-monger and misrepresent public health programs as “inefficient rationed care,” “government run” or “controlled,” a weakened economy and rising health care costs are pricing many Americans out of the market. Increased job loss and skyrocketing premiums are leading a greater number of Americans into government-sponsored safety-net coverage.

According to new Census report released today, in 2008, the number of people without health insurance has increased from from 45.7 million to 46.3 million. The number of Americans with individual and employer-sponsored private coverage decreased, while enrollments for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) grew.

In fact, the uninsurance rate declined significantly for Americans under 18 and over 65 — the two groups who are eligible for government-sponsored coverage (CHIP or Medicaid).


Last year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report that underlined the important role public health programs like SCHIP and Medicaid play in providing health care to children. As the CEO of foundation pointed out, “programs like SCHIP are a true lifeline for vulnerable children. Hard-working parents need these programs, and their children benefit greatly because of them.” As Jeane Lambrew –Director, HHS Office of Health Reform — has pointed out in Congressional testimony, public “fill certain cracks in the system.” “Altogether, these programs insure over one-fourth of the population and finance 45 percent of the health system, including the safety net programs that directly pay for services for vulnerable populations.”

In other words, government programs pick-up where private insurers leave off, providing insurance for the sickest Americans. Lambrew noted that “public programs serve at least four functions”:

– Make health insurance affordable for low-income Americans

– Insure a disproportionate percent of Americans with disabilities or severe health problems

– Help private insurers manage risk by taking on the sickest and costliest patients

– Offer an alternative to private insurance

Enrollees of government programs are satisfied with the cost and quality of coverage. In fact, “research has shown that Medicare has performed as well as private insurance on costs and has exceeded it on satisfaction,” which begs the question: “Why should policymakers give private insurers the exclusive right to cover Americans? If private insurers can better meet our goals for the health system, why object to a level competition with public plans?”