Marketplace Report: Big Boost in U.S. Uninsured

At least 41 percent of working-age Americans with moderate incomes lacked health insurance for at least part of 2005 — a dramatic increase in the number of Americans without coverage. Alex Chadwick talks with Bob Moon of Marketplace about how patients who go untreated often suffer more expensive health problems later.

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Back now with DAY TO DAY. The news is bleak for a growing number of Americans struggling with no health insurance.

A newly released study finds the percentage of uninsured has jumped dramatically among the working-age, moderate income Americans. And even more report they are having trouble paying their medical bills.

Marketplace New York Bureau Chief Bob Moon joins us with more. Bob, how fast is this number of the uninsured rising?

BOB MOON reporting:

Well, Alex, it's going up surprisingly fast according to the group that just released this report. It comes from the Commonwealth Fund, which is a private healthcare policy foundation based here in New York.

Just five years ago, back in 2005, the study counted among the uninsured 28 percent of working-age Americans with moderate to middle incomes, they lacked insurance for at least part of the year. Well, last year, that number rose from 28 percent to 41 percent. The study also found that more than half of uninsured adults reported having problems paying their medical bills or had to incur debt to cover those expenses. And by the way, no surprise here really, but the lower the income of these working Americans, the higher the number of uninsured; the percentage of individuals who made less than $20,000 a year and went without insurance rose to 53 percent. That's up from 49 percent in 2001.

CHADWICK: Those are big numbers. What are these people without insurance doing to cope with the high cost of healthcare?

MOON: Well, this study suggests that they--they just simply do without. People without insurance are found more likely to have to forego recommended health screenings, mammograms for example, than those with coverage. And they're less likely to have a regular doctor than their insured counterparts.

Back to those studies, 51 percent of women without health insurance haven't had a mammogram in two years. That compares to just 22 percent of women with insurance. And men seem to be doing without prostate cancer screenings, for example. 76 percent of uninsured men, between the ages of 40 and 64, haven't had that PSA test to detect prostate cancer in two years, and that compares to 52 percent of their insured counterparts.

CHADWICK: This is grim news for the people who are stuck in this situation, Bob. But I wonder if it also may be affecting hospitals and healthcare providers?

MOON: Well, that's a good point, Alex. Just yesterday, HCA Incorporated, that's the nation's largest for-profit hospital operator, reported that its earnings actually dropped 8.5 percent in the first quarter after an increase in the uninsured admissions cut into revenue gains. Basically, they were saying that uninsured admissions rose 13 percent during the quarter and they had to basically eat that cost.

Today, in the Marketplace newsroom, we're looking into the future of nuclear power as the world observes the 20th Anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

CHADWICK: Thank you, Bob Moon, of public radio's daily business show, Marketplace, produced by American Public Media.

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