Obama on the Uninsured: ‘It Can Happen to Anyone’

By MichaelJames

Sep 12, 2009 6:01am

From Sunlen Miller, Matt Jaffe and Jordyn Phelps:

Pushing a sense of urgency for health care reform, President Obama in his weekly address warned that the threat of not having insurance is actually very real to many Americans.

He warned that “the uninsured” is not just some phantom group – that it could happen to you.

“And I’ve heard from Americans with insurance who thought that 'the uninsured' always referred to someone else – but between skyrocketing costs and insurance company practices, they’re beginning to worry that they could find themselves uninsured too,” Obama said. “We’re not just talking about Americans in poverty, either. We’re talking about middle-class Americans.  In other words, it can happen to anyone.”

Armed with statistics from a new Treasury Department study, Obama made the case that being uninsured is a very real possibility.

“We can expect that about half of all Americans under 65 will lose their health coverage at some point over the next 10 years," he said. "If you’re under the age of 21 today, chances are more than half that you’ll find yourself uninsured at some point in that time.  And more than one-third of Americans will go without coverage for longer than one year.”

The Treasury Department found that 48 percent of Americans undergo a period without health insurance over the course of a decade.  Forty-one percent of Americans don’t have insurance for more than six months. And 32 percent go without insurance for more than a year’s time. The study looked at 17,123 Americans aged 65 and younger from 1997-2006. Americans had to be without insurance for at least a month to be considered in the data.

Treasury officials said these numbers don’t just affect lower-income Americans. Forty-five percent of Americans with a household income ranging between $50,000 and $100,000 annually undergo a period without insurance over a decade, the study found.

Obama said his health reform plan will ensure that fewer Americans become part of those statistics.

“I refuse to allow that future to happen,” Obama said. “In the United States of America, no one should have to worry that they’ll go without health insurance – not for one year, not for one month, not for one day.  And once I sign my health reform plan into law, they won’t.”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner similarity stressed, in a paper statement, the report’s findings as an argument for passing health reform legislation now.

“The report released today by Treasury underscores the urgent need for comprehensive health insurance reform,” Geithner said. “While over 15 percent of Americans go without insurance in a given year, nearly 50 percent will go uninsured at some point over the next decade. “

A Treasury official said the president’s focus on the threat of being uninsured is because many Americans have the “misperception that benefits and protections for the uninsured help only a small slice of Americans.”

“That is not the case,” a Treasury official said. “These numbers suggest … that the risk Americans face [of] losing insurance is much too high. And one could reasonably predict that over the course of the next decade, unless major reforms are made, at least half of Americans – if the next 10 years are like the last 10 years – half of Americans would go some period without coverage by health insurance, and many for a substantially long period.”

Treasury officials also made the case that the data collection period, 1997-2000, was a time when the economy was doing relatively well and health insurance was not as expensive as it is right now.

The president said that every day that goes by without passing reform is affecting Americans.

“We have had a long and important debate," he said. "But now is the time for action, because every day we wait, more Americans will lose their health care, their businesses, and their homes – but also the dreams they’ve worked for and the peace of mind they deserve.  They are why we have to succeed.”

The health care momentum will be kept up this weekend, as President Obama travels to Minneapolis for a rally on health care reform. 

Watch Obama's radio address HERE.

-Sunlen Miller, Matt Jaffe and Jordyn Phelps

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