Census Bureau Numbers Are Not a Complete Picture of the Uninsured Population

Study Says 43 Percent of Uninsured Could Afford Healthcare Coverage
  • Publication Date: September 2010

  • Topics: Health Care

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released a new report quantifying that 16.7 percent of Americans are uninsured, or roughly 50.6 million people. There was a 1.3 percentage point increase in the uninsured from 2008 to 2009.

The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) points to research that shows these numbers are not a complete picture of who can and cannot afford health coverage.

The 2009 study, “Who are the Uninsured?,” authored by Drs. June and David O’Neill (Baruch College and City University of New York) uses 2007 data to show that roughly 43 percent of the uninsured aged 18-64 could likely afford health coverage, and are therefore “voluntarily uninsured.” June O’Neill served as Director of the Congressional Budget Office from 1995-1999.

“This study shows that we need to better understand America’s uninsured population and the factors affecting both coverage and access to care,” said study author Dr. June O’Neill.

Using data from a number of government datasets to determine what percentage of uninsured Americans are actually unable to afford it, the study found that at least 43 percent of Americans in the 18-to-64-year-old age group have incomes at least 2.5 times the poverty level and are “voluntarily” uninsured. The study found that 79 percent of people with incomes between 2.5 and 3.75 times the poverty level purchased private health insurance. Considering the large percentages covered at that income level, the authors consider the voluntarily uninsured group as having enough disposable income to purchase health insurance.

The full text of the study can be found here: http://epionline.org/study_detail.cfm?sid=122.

“While there have been important changes in the labor market since the O’Neill’s released their study, the conclusion is still the same: millions of the country’s uninsured are uninsured by choice,” said Michael Saltsman, research fellow at EPI.

Saltsman concluded: “Passing a healthcare bill that changes coverage for almost all Americans was a costly mistake when it was first proposed in 2009, and it’s still a mistake in 2010. The O’Neill’s research suggests a better solution would have focused specifically on those Americans who were uninsured because they couldn’t afford coverage.”