A campaign by the American Hospital Association to reduce the number of uninsured has fallen short of its goal by 1.5 million people.
With its two-year Campaign for Coverage, the AHA and its members had hoped to expand health coverage by 4 million people by this month.
But in the end, about 2.5 million more people got coverage, according to a soon-to-be-released final report on the campaign by the nation's largest hospital trade group.
"It's a darn good result," given the economic and other pressures facing hospitals, said Richard Wade, the AHA's senior vice president for communications.
According to the report, some of the coverage initiatives undertaken by hospitals, health systems and state or metropolitan hospital associations helped people enroll in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, expanded coverage to hospital employees, contributed to insurance premiums or developed affordable health insurance products.
But the efforts didn't seem to make a dent in the number of uninsured.
"Nothing people have done incrementally in the past decade has worked to lower the number of uninsured in this country," said Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., an associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Woolhandler, along with three other colleagues, recently published a study that details the 30% rise in the number of uninsured Americans from 1989 to 1997. The study was published in the January edition of the American Journal of Public Health.
In 1997, 43.4 million people, or 16.1% of the population, were uninsured, compared with 33.4 million, or 13.6%, in 1989. By 2002, the number of uninsured is expected to reach 44 million.
"We aren't going to get everybody insured until we as a nation say everyone will be covered," said Woolhandler, an advocate for national health insurance. She is co-founder of a physicians group that supports universal access to care.
Wade said the AHA went forward with its Campaign for Coverage because major healthcare reform had fallen off the nation's political landscape. And if it ever came up on the radar screen again, the AHA would have more leverage to push for expansion of coverage if it had initiatives under way.
Now that the campaign has officially ended, Wade said those involved will continue to push for expanded access to coverage.