May 01, 2005

The Underinsured Too

This is from a few days back, but according to the Los Angeles Times, new studies may soon show that the number of uninsured in America has been overstated, and it might be "only" 36 million instead of the oft-cited 45 million. Well, bring 'em on. I doubt studies like this are ever going to minimize the scope of the problem in the public mind: is there anyone who's going to say, "Well, I thought 45 million was a major fucking problem, but 36 million? Eh, I'm going to the beach..." It's still tens of millions, and the more attention on this, the better.

But there's another point to make here: it's not just enough to count up the uninsured, since the problem of inadequate coverage also extends to the underinsured, a much-neglected group. In that famous Elizabeth Warren study on how health emergencies cause all manner of bankruptcies, one of the under-reported statistics was that 75.7 of the sick actually had medical insurance at the onset of illness, but ended up paying $11,354 out of pocket on average. Much of this, I suspect, stems from the twisted structure of employment-based insurance, which often lapses at the worst possible moment—when illness causes a worker to lose his or her job, for instance. But there are all sorts of ways in which that 45 million—or 36 million—number doesn't begin to capture the scope of the problem.
-- Brad Plumer 3:13 PM || ||