One of the problems in the health care debate today is lack of facts — at least facts that all sides of the debate can agree on. Without such agreement, without a basic set of facts and data to reason from, we’re not likely to make any progress.
One example of a fact often used as evidence is the high number of uninsured in America. Often the number cited is 45.7 million, which is a substantial fraction of our population. The source of this number is the United States Census Bureau report Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007. Specifically, the table “People Without Health Insurance Coverage by Selected Characteristics: 2006 and 2007” (page 22) gives this number, along with some detail and breakdown by various characteristics.
When we look at these breakdowns, we can start to see that while 45.7 million is a big number, it is not indicative of the large and pressing problem the raw number suggests.
The table starts by giving the number of uninsured people as 45,657,000 (in 2007).
Below this number, one breakdown tells us that non-citizens number 9,737,000 (21%) of these uninsured. Many people feel that non-citizens, especially undocumented aliens , should not be entitled to government benefits such a health insurance. (Not all non-citizens are undocumented.) The Obama administration claims that the plans under consideration will not cover undocumented aliens. But it includes them in the number of uninsured people.
Other lines in the table tell us that 8,488,000 (19%) live in households where the household income is from $50,000 to $74,999. Another 9,115,000 (20%) live in households with incomes over $75,000. These people, especially the over-$75,000 households, may not like spending money on health insurance premiums, but they could, in most cases, afford their own health insurance, even if premiums are over $1,000 per month.
There’s also the issue that many people are eligible for some sort of government assistance with health insurance, but they don’t take advantage of it. Yet, these people are counted as uninsured. As explained in The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care: A Citizen’s Guide by Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute: “As many as 14 million of the 45.7 million uninsured—poor and low-income Americans—are fully eligible for generous government assistance programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP. The problem is, they’re just not enrolling in these programs.”
We can see that substantial portions of the uninsured are not really problems that require huge government intervention to fix. It’s not possible to tell exactly how many, as the categories listed above are overlapping.