Last year ended with more households uninsured and in poverty, the Census Bureau reported last week.
More than 4 million individuals lost health insurance last year—a figure that does not include those who spent part of the year uninsured. Households' median income stagnated, and the number of people living in poverty rose by 3.8 million last year. The nation has not seen as many people in poverty—43.6 million—in the last half-century. The poverty rate climbed to a 15-year high.
Median household income has declined 4.2%, though the reported numbers did not include a final reckoning of how the recession affected income because economists had not declared it officially over. The poverty rate climbed 1.9% since 2007, as 6.3 million people, including 2.7 million children, landed in poverty.
Erosion of insurance coverage in 2009 was the most significant, and by more than one measure, since the census first collected comparable figures in 1987. As my colleague Jennifer Lubell reported, this latest snapshot has been cited by proponents of the health reform law, which will more tightly regulate and expand access to health insurance, to dispute those seeking to repel or revise the law.
For the first time in the 22 years of comparable records, the number of people with health insurance decreased in 2009 to 255.1 million. The number of uninsured reached 50.7 million last year from 46.3 million the prior year, the census figures show.
If 2008 is any indication, the Census Bureau figures may also suggest 2009 saw more sluggish healthcare spending last year and less access to healthcare.
Health spending growth cooled to its slowest rate of growth in 48 years in 2008, the first full year of the recession.
Private spending growth on insurance premiums and benefits slipped in 2008 to the slowest rate since 1967. Household spending (which continues to increase) on co-payments, deductibles, and care not included in benefits also grew more slowly. “In response to the poor economic conditions in 2008, people may have reduced their spending on healthcare and forgone some medical treatment—particularly those who lost health insurance as a result of unemployment,” wrote CMS officials who complied the figures in the journal Health Affairs.