Archive for Monday, February 4, 2002

Study: Fewer children lack health insurance

February 4, 2002


— Children are increasingly likely to have health insurance as states continue signing them up for a government insurance program for children of the working poor, the government reported Sunday.

Hispanics, young adults and men were most likely to lack insurance to help cover the costs of health care.

Overall, 14.1 percent of Americans were uninsured during the first six months of 2001, which translates to about 38.9 million people. That's down from 15.4 percent in 1997, according to the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies have found that people with health insurance are much more likely to seek medical care and thus to be healthier that those who must either pay the full cost of treatment out of pocket or rely on charity.

The most significant improvements in insurance coverage have been among children.

In 1997, 13.9 percent of children were uninsured. Congress responded by approving the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

The move came after lawmakers scuttled then-President Clinton's large-scale plan for getting health insurance to all Americans. Supporters were hoping to chip away at the problem with modest initiatives, beginning with children. They created CHIP for children whose families earned too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford health insurance on their own.

By the first half of 2001, the portion of uninsured children had fallen to 11.2 percent, the new survey found. It also found that the portion of children receiving government-sponsored insurance Medicaid or CHIP rose from 20 percent in 1998 to 23.1 percent last year.

The findings, based on a survey of American households and children that has been conducted since 1997, were considered preliminary.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson welcomed the news and said his department would continue encouraging states to expand their CHIP programs.

"Insurance coverage means healthier children and healthier families," he said in a statement.

Democrats are looking to expand CHIP to cover low-income parents, and Thompson has embraced the idea. But the Bush administration's budget for next year proposes directing most of its money for reducing the number of uninsured toward tax credits to help families buy their own coverage.

The report also found that the younger someone was, the less likely they were to have insurance, with 27.9 percent of those aged 18 to 24 uninsured. Senior citizens automatically qualify for Medicare, so virtually all of them are covered.

Men were more likely to be uninsured than women, partly because poor single mothers who care for their children are covered by Medicaid but single dads without custody are not eligible.

The share of Hispanics lacking insurance was 32.1 percent, compared to 18.8 percent of non-Hispanic blacks and 10 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

The broad-ranging survey also found:

The portion of elderly Americans receiving a flu vaccine fell after rising for several years.

About one-third of adults reported participating in regular leisure-time physical activity.

The number of obese adults, based on their own reports of height and weight, increased from 19.4 percent in 1997 to 22.5 percent in 2001.

About 22.3 percent of adults were current smokers, reflecting a continued decline.

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