Health Insurance Survey: 84 Million People Were Uninsured

Photo: Waiting room

80 million people were unable to afford the health care they need;
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Eighty-four million people ― nearly half of all working-age adults in the United States ―went without health insurance for a time last year or had out-of-pocket costs that were so high relative to their income they were considered underinsured, according to the Commonwealth Fund 2012 Biennial Health Insurance Survey.

The survey also found that the proportion of young adults ages 19-25 who were uninsured during the year fell from 48 percent to 41 percent between 2010 and 2012, reversing a nearly decade-long trend of rising uninsured rates in that age group. This reversal is likely due to a provision in the 2010 Affordable Care Act allowing young adults to stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26, the authors say. The researchers find that the percentage of Americans who were uninsured, underinsured, or had gaps in their health coverage grew steadily between 2003 and 2010, with the number of underinsured nearly doubling from 16 million in 2003 to 29 million in 2010. However, between 2010 and 2012, the numbers of underinsured adults leveled off, growing to 30 million. The authors say that this is partly a result of slower health care cost growth and lower overall health spending by consumers, combined with declining household incomes. But provisions in the health reform law — such as requiring insurers to cover recommended preventive care without any cost to patients — also are beginning to make health care more affordable for many consumers.

"The early provisions of the Affordable Care Act are helping young adults gain coverage and improving the affordability of health care during difficult economic times for American families," said Doctor Sara Collins, the study's lead author. "It will be critical to continue to monitor the effects of the law as the major provisions go into effect in 2014 and beyond to ensure it achieves its goal of near-universal, comprehensive health insurance."

According to the survey, people are increasingly skipping needed health care because they can't afford it. In 2012, 80 million people reported that, during the past year, they did not go to the doctor when they were sick or did not fill a prescription due to cost. Reports of skipping needed care rose substantially from 2003, when 63 million people did not get care because of cost.

Medical debt also continues to burden U.S. households. According to the report, in 2012, 41 percent of working-age adults, or 75 million people, had problems paying their medical bills or were paying off medical bills over time, up from 58 million in 2005. Nearly one of five (18 percent) adults were contacted by a collections agency over unpaid bills, and 16 percent had to change their way of life because of medical bills. The report finds that medical debt has substantial consequences: 42 percent of survey respondents who reported having trouble with medical bills, or an estimated 32 million people, had a lower credit rating because of unpaid bills and 6 percent, or an estimated 4 million, had to declare bankruptcy because of their bills.; Source: Commonwealth Fund