Who are the uninsured?
October 4, 1999
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Susan and Bob Druss are self-employed auctioneers. He suffers from chronic back pain; she's recovering from pneumonia. So what about their health insurance?
"We have none. We have absolutely none. Our child is covered, but as far as we're concerned -- we can live or die -- but we cannot get sick," said Susan Druss. "There is nothing we can do about it."
The Drusses are among more than 44 million people in the United States who are uninsured -- or about one in six -- according to new Census Bureau figures for 1998. That's one million more than the year before.
At $500 a month, the Drusses say health insurance is just too expensive.
"We look at it as a luxury item -- between insurance on cars and mortgages and maintaining a house," said Bob Druss, listing his expenses.
The ranks of the uninsured cut across ethnic and economic lines. Census figures show it affects both the working poor and the middle class. In households with an annual income of $75,000 or above, more than eight percent were without health insurance.
That figure tripled in lower income homes, even though the rate of coverage actually increased in that income bracket over the past year.
"We're almost feeling a double whammy in these numbers," said James Tallon of the United Hospital Fund. "The private sector insurance market is declining and now the public program that we've been relying on to cover poor people in America is also declining."
Most surprising to many policy analysts, 3 million people fell off Medicaid and didn't pick up other insurance.
"A lot of us suspected that was going on, have heard anecdotal stories about it, had the impression that it was harder and harder for poor kids to get Medicaid enrollment, but this is the most dramatic documentation we've had so far," said Bruce Vladeck of Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
According to census figures, women were the biggest losers -- a million women were added to the rolls of the uninsured last year -- bringing the total to 21 million.
"It's women and kids last in this society," said Vladeck.
Hispanics were more likely to be uninsured than non-Hispanics -- at a rate of 35 percent compared to 12 percent. And many young adults lacked coverage.
"As bad as the situation is now. it can only get worse when the economy stops growing," said Vladeck.
"This is a matter of life and death," said Susan Druss. "We can't be ignored anymore."
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