The number of uninsured rose to 50.7 million in 2009 from 46.3 million in 2008, according to the Census Bureau, as people lost employer-based health insurance in a weak economy. But as with every year, it's important to dig deeper into the numbers to understand what they actually tell us.
To start with, the Census report itself cautions that "health insurance coverage is underreported...for a variety of reasons." One reason is that the survey asks respondents whether they were insured in the prior calendar year, but some may respond based on their current insurance status, or say they were uninsured when in actuality they were only without coverage for part of the year while between jobs. The report says the data "more closely approximates the number of people who were uninsured at a specific point in time during the year than the number of people uninsured for the entire year."
In addition, the report shows that of the 50.7 million uninsured, 9.9 million are not citizens.
Also, some qualify for existing government programs but have simply not enrolled. And some could conceivably afford coverage, but have chosen not to purchase it -- 19.9 million of the uninsured make over $50,000 a year, and 10.6 million make over $75,000. Plus, 20.1 million uninsured are between 18 and 34, and some in this age group may have decided that they simply don't need insurance because they're relatively healthy.
What we do get a sense of from these numbers, however, are trends. And this year, the percentage of people covered by employment-based health insurance dropped to 55.8 percent, from 58.5 percent in 2008, making last year the lowest level of employment-based health care since 1987.
The most obvious explanation is that lower employment translated into lower employer-based health care. Liberals, no doubt, would use this as an argument in favor of ObamaCare. But in reality, it's an argument to move away from an employment-based insurance model and toward a model where individuals purchase their own health insurance and can take it with them from job to job, or maintain it when they lose their jobs. Instead, ObamaCare preserves the link between employment and coverage.
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