Nearly 82 million people--one third of the U.S. population younger than 65--lacked health insurance at some point over the past two years, and most of those were uninsured for more than nine months, says a study by the private group Families USA.
The problem reaches deep into the middle class, affects African-Americans and Hispanics disproportionately and is most pronounced among people younger than 25, according to the group's analysis of census data.
The study, released today, found that 8.5 million Texas residents, or 43.4% percent of the nonelderly population there, did not have health insurance--the highest rate in the country.
Other states where more than 35% of people younger than 65 were uninsured were: New Mexico, 42.4%; California, 37.1%; Nevada, 36.8%; Louisiana, 36.2%; Arizona, 35.7%; Mississippi, 35.1%; and Oklahoma, 35%.
Numerous studies have associated a lack of health insurance with poorer health and earlier death, as well as delayed and inadequate medical care. The Families USA study, using numbers from projections developed by the Lewin Group, focused on Americans younger than 65 because older Americans are covered by the federal government's Medicare program.
Ron Pollack, Families USA's executive director, said fast-rising healthcare costs, a soft labor market in which employers are passing more health costs to workers and reductions in state safety-net programs are resulting in substantial increases in the number of uninsured.
Typically, the Census Bureau reports the number of uninsured Americans as those without health insurance for the entire year. The bureau reported last September that 43.6 million were uninsured for all of 2002, and updated figures will be released this summer.
But the ranks of the uninsured grow when a longer time span is examined and when also including those who are uninsured for less a year.
Even among families with incomes of $75,000 a year and higher, 13.5 million people were without insurance for part of 2002-2003, the study said.
The numbers were especially high for minorities, which are "disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs and jobs in sectors that are less likely to have health insurance benefits," the report said. Nearly 60% of Hispanics and 43% of blacks were uninsured. Among whites, the rate of uninsurance was 23.5%.