Sources of health insurance and characteristics of the uninsured: analysis of the March 1997 Current Population Survey

P Fronstin
EBRI Issue Brief 1997, (192): 1-33
This Issue Brief provides summary data on the insured and uninsured populations in the nation and in each state. It discusses the characteristics most closely related to individuals' health insurance status. Based on EBRI analysis of the March 1997 Current Population Survey, it represents 1996 data--the most recent data available. In 1996, 82.3 percent of nonelderly (under age 65) Americans had private or public health insurance. Seventy-one percent had private insurance, 64 percent through an employment-based plan. Sixteen percent had public health insurance. The percentage of uninsured Americans has been increasing since at least 1987. In 1987, 14.8 percent of the nonelderly population was uninsured, compared with 17.7 percent in 1996. However, the erosion of employment-based health benefits cannot fully explain this increase since 1993. Instead, the decline in public sources of health insurance would partly explain it. It may be that, while the percentage of individuals with employment-based coverage is rising, individuals previously covered by Medicaid and CHAMPUS/CHAMPVA are not being fully absorbed into the employment-based health insurance market. Between 1995 and 1996, the percentage of nonelderly Americans without health insurance coverage increased from 17.4 percent to 17.7 percent. Further examination indicates that children completely accounted for this increase. In 1995, 13.8 percent of children and 19 percent of persons ages 18-64 were uninsured, compared with 14.8 percent of children and 18.9 percent of persons ages 18-64 in 1996. With the recent passage of legislation designed to reduce the number of uninsured children, the next focal point for health care reform could be early retirees and unemployed persons. President Clinton and some members of Congress have expressed an interest in improving access to and affordability of coverage for these groups. Currently, health care cost inflation is at its lowest point in years, but there are signals indicating that it is about to rise above current levels. The federal government's recent announcement that health insurance premiums will rise for federal employees an average of 8.5 percent in 1998 may portend higher future health care costs. Similarly, disappointing earnings announcements from several large insurers because of higher medical costs and lower-than-expected revenues may indicate that health insurance plans will increase premiums. Employment and income play a dominant role in determining an individual's likelihood of having health insurance. Age, gender, firm size, work hours, and industry are also important determinants; however, these variables are also closely linked to employment status and income. Some of the widest variations involve factors that are not always looked at in traditional demographic assessments, such as citizenship. However, variations by race, ethnicity, and citizenship are also closely linked to employment status and income.

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