Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Private health insurance coverage down again in 2007

The Census Bureau yesterday released its report on Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage for 2007 and had some mixed news to report. On the positive side, real median household income (the point where half of households have higher incomes and half have lower) rose slightly. Though real medium income has now risen for three straight years, it still hasn't recovered to the levels from 1999 and 2000.

In particular, incomes for the middle three-fifths of the income distribution rose, while incomes for the bottom fifth were unchanged and incomes for the top fifth decreased. As a result, real average household incomes (income per capita) fell as did income inequality.

Overall health insurance coverage rose. The number of uninsured people fell from an estimated 47 million people to 45.7 million people.

Unfortuntately, the positive overall health insurance rate masks a negative trend. The increase in coverage comes entirely from public health insurance; private health insurance coverage continues to shrink. While the number of people covered by private plans was unchanged, the population grew, leading to a decrease in the percentage covered from 67.9 percent to 67.5 percent. Also, the percentage of people covered by employment based plans decreased from 59.7 percent to 59.3 percent.

Just over one-sixth of full-time workers were uninsured in 2007, and just under one-quarter of part-time workers were without insurance. Among adults 18-64 who didn't work, the uninsurance rate was also a quarter.

The economy was growing for most of 2007. Employment has declined substantially during 2008. The 2007 report may be the last one with any positive news for a while.

Explainer: Why 2007, you ask? The primary data source for the report is a survey conducted in March of each year that asks income questions about the preceding calendar year. The survey is timed to coincide with tax season, when people might be better able to recall their sources of income for the preceding year. So, the 2007 data were collected in March of 2008. Add in a few months to process and analyze the data and that brings you to August.