Census Data: The Importance Of Public Heath Care Programs

The decrease in the number of uninsured — from 47 million to 45.7 million — underscores the importance of public health care programs. As Len Nichols of the New Health Dialogue Blog rightly notes:

…a weakened economy and rising health care costs have led fewer Americans to buy private insurance and more Americans to turn to the government for safety net coverage. Let’s keep in mind, however, that the numbers released today are for 2007, before the economy really took a turn for the worse. Therefore, we can expect the reduction in private coverage enrollment and increased dependence on Medicaid to be magnified in 2008. This path places increasing strain on local, state, and federal governments who are already grappling with tough budgetary constraints.

Indeed, while conservatives continue to fear-monger and misrepresent public health programs as “inefficient rationed care,” “government run” or “controlled,” Americans are turning to them in greater numbers.

According to the new census data, in 2007 the percentage of people with private coverage dropped from 67.9% to 67.5%, while the number of Americans with government-provided health coverage increased from 27.0% to 27.8%. The number of children with private insurance also fell by 0.4%, and 1.2% more children received coverage through public programs.


This greater availability of care is the result of state, not federal, progress. President Bush’s refusal to adequately fund SCHIP and expand public health programs has forced state governments to pick up the slack. While the economy tempers prospects “for further progress,” “state efforts to expand Medicaid and SCHIP during 2007 reached a level not seen since the late 1990s.”

During 2007, “governors in 34 states offered plans to reduce the number of uninsured children, parents, adults, aged and disabled in their state through Medicaid expansions, SCHIP expansions…market-based approaches.”

The Kaiser Foundation offers this chart:

In fact, according to the new data, Massachusetts health reform — which has insured 439,000 new residents and cut the number of uninsured nearly in half — is responsible “for 24% of the decline nationally in the number of uninsured.”Last week, 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.”

Yesterday’s census numbers suggest that public health programs are a “lifeline” for all Americans who cannot afford private coverage.