Who Is Insured By Who?

Robert Siegel talks with Julie Rovner, who breaks down how many Americans get insurance through the government versus the private sector.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Julie Rovner joins me in the studio right now and, Julie, we've just heard about one person in Massachusetts who has health coverage and another in Texas who doesn't. First question: how many of us, like Melinda Maarouf in Houston, are uninsured?

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: Well, like everything in health care, that is subject to a good bit of debate, but the last official numbers that we have from the Census Bureau said that, in 2010, that number was 49 million, which is about one-sixth of the country.

SIEGEL: Since the population is now a little bit over 300 million. How many Americans are then on the big government health care programs, Medicaid, Medicare or military coverage?

ROVNER: Well, there are some people who have both, but generally, it's a little bit north of about 100 million people.

SIEGEL: That's about a third of the entire population.

ROVNER: That's right. So that's a lot of people who are on a - what you would think of as a government health program.

SIEGEL: But there are other people whose health insurance is, in effect, paid for with tax monies because they're public employees.

ROVNER: That's right. There's about 28 million people who work for either the federal government or state or local government. These are not just federal workers, but teachers, firefighters, police officers, so if you add all of those people together, you get somewhere over 40 percent of the population whose health insurance is basically paid for a governmental entity.

That's why, if you look at total government spending in 2010, the government share of health spending was $1.2 trillion of the $2.6 trillion that we spent, or about 45 percent of all health care spending, so there's an awful lot of government spending on the nation's health care tab.

SIEGEL: Let's look at the rest of the economy: Americans who work in the private sector and are insured by the private sector.

ROVNER: That's right. That's everything that's left. That's a little bit less than 40 percent and that includes people who buy their own health insurance.

SIEGEL: So whatever you can say about our health care system - and it's a very complex thing to describe - one thing it is not is a predominantly private system.

ROVNER: That's correct.

SIEGEL: OK. Julie, thank you.

ROVNER: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: We're talking about our health care system on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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