Study: Uninsured Barely Get Health Care

Aug. 10, 2000 -- At a time of unprecedented wealth in the United States, 44 million Americans are uninsured and receive second-class health care, if they receive any at all, according to a consumer advocacy group.

“The plight of the uninsured is getting worse while the burden of paying for health care is getting heavier for the poor and middle class,” says Consumers Union Washington spokesman David Butler.

Given the trillion dollar budget surplus in the U.S., Butler believes it is time for the federal government to make a bolder attempt at providing the country with a national health care system.

In its September issue of Consumer Reports the group sums up a six-month investigation into the state of U.S. health care. Blaming welfare reform and a lack of marketplace initiatives to provide adequate medical care for the poor, the report states the health care system is increasingly unable to provide treatment for working Americans who do not qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford insurance on their own.

The U.S. spends more of its GDP on health care than any other country in the world, yet the quality of care that the uninsured receive is getting worse and will continue to deteriorate as their numbers go up, says Trudy Lieberman the report’s author and director of the Center for Consumer Health Choices at Consumers Union. She predicts that in five years there will be 47 million uninsured Americans.

Perceived Worthiness

“They put up with care the rest of us who are insured would never put up with,” Lieberman, saidat a news conference in Washington today.

The kind of health care the uninsured receive depends on their age, where they live and what programs may exist in their area, how much money they can scrape together to pay for careand on their “perceived worthiness,” the report said. Meanwhile, it said, emergency rooms, community clinics, pharmaceutical -industry programs and charity care, which have long been relied on to provide a safety net for the uninsured, don’t catch everyone in need.

“We’re talking about a patchwork quilt that is threadbare,” Robert Cosby, executive director of the Non-Profit Clinic Consortium in Washington, said at the news conference.

The number of people seeking care from federally funded clinics Consumers Union reports, has gone up 45 percent in the last decade, while the 3,000 federally funded clinics in the U.S. only meet 6 percent of the dental care needs of the uninsured.

Marketplace Response

A second report released by Consumers Union said that the marketplace is not adequately responding to the growing number of uninsured.

Insurers have a financial interest in covering the healthiest population creating a health care divide, said Gail Shearer, author of the second study. She said the sickest 10 percent of the population accounts for about 68 percent of health care expenditures.

An effort by President Clinton early in his administration to enact universal health coverage for Americans failed after lawmakers could not agree how to do it.

Current proposals to expand medical savings accounts and tax credits to help pay for insurance are unlikely to significantly reduce the number of uninsured, the report said.

Shearer said she hoped the studies would give an election-year voice to the uninsured at a time of huge projected budget surpluses.

The group is recommending that Congress enact legislation to ensure health coverage for all children and to provide a Medicare prescription drug benefit for the elderly.

The group also said Congress should take steps to reduce the number of uninsured adults and reject programs, such as tax-favored medical savings accounts, that favor the healthy over the sick.

“It’s time to bring the national health care issue back to the federal government’s table,” said Butler.

Reuters contributed to this report.