The number of uninsured Americans will rise from 40 million currently to nearly 46 million by 2002, according to a study released last week by the American Hospital Association.
The primary cause for the increase will be a decline in the number of workers covered by employer health plans.
The AHA study, which was prepared by the Lewin Group, found that nearly 74% of workers now receive health insurance from their employers. That number is projected to drop to about 70% in 2002.
The AHA has been pushing the issue of access to care for the uninsured since the AHA board voted earlier this year to revisit the topic. However, AHA President Richard Davidson said the AHA was focusing on state and local initiatives to reduce the uninsured rather than federal programs like the ones being proposed by the Clinton administration.
At last month's Democratic convention in Chicago, the Clinton administration proposed two major new health programs. The first would subsidize insurance premiums for temporarily unemployed workers, and the second would subsidize insurance for children in low-income families.
The AHA study also found that only 1 million workers, about 18% of those eligible for the benefit, take advantage of a federal law called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, or COBRA, that allows them to continue their employer-sponsored coverage at their own expense after they lose their jobs. The study found that monthly premiums averaged more than $450.
The recently enacted health insurance reform plan contains a provision that guarantees workers who lose their employer-based coverage can purchase individual insurance after exhausting their COBRA benefits.
However, the low rate at which employees take advantage of COBRA calls into question how effective the health insurance reforms will be in reducing the number of uninsured.
"I think this shows that the bill doesn't necessarily expand coverage, but it can protect further erosion," Davidson said.