Underinsured Number has Increased, but Reform is coming

June 14, 2010

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the number of underinsured Americans increased by over a third between 2003 and 2007, from 15 million to 25 million, and despite the passage of the health care reform bill earlier this year, there may be even more people who have some health insurance, but not enough to cover their medical costs.

A 2008 study by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund says that these underinsured citizens, working people who have to buy their own insurance, or whose employers only offer plans with high copayments and thousand-dollar deductibles are increasingly found among the middle class, and that they’re acting more and more like the 47 million Americans who have no insurance at all: skipping recommended care because they’re afraid they can’t pay for it. It is the often-ignored preventative care that medical experts say is the key to keeping healthcare costs down across the board.

According to the study, a total of 75 million working adults where either un- or underinsured in 2007, or about 42 percent of the total US population between the ages of 19-64 – increased from roughly a third of the population just four years earlier.

Cathy Schoen, senior vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, and a co-author of the study explained, “This erosion in insurance protection is putting patients, families, and the nation’s health and economic security at risk. As a nation we are losing ground. We need to move in new directions.”

The good news – at least for some, is that we’re nearing the time when some of the reforms passed last March will come to fruition. For example:

By September, insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage to a child because of a pre-existing condition, and they will no longer to be able to insure a child but exclude treatment for pre-existing conditions.

Expected by the end of this month, companies who offer health plans to employees will be required to provide coverage to retired workers between the ages of 55 and 64, who do not yet qualify for Medicare, though this plan is a temporary measure.

In addition, it is expected that the creation of the federal high-risk insurance pool will still happen by the beginning of July.

Will all of this mean an end to all underinsured and uninsured Americans? Sadly, no, but reform comes slowly, and as more measures fall into place we will see those numbers begin to drop.