published Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Clock ticking on health reform, report says


by Emily Bregel
Audio clip

Ron Pollack

PDF: Losing insurance report

AMERICANS LOSING COVERAGE

Average number of people projected to lose insurance between January 2008 and December 2010:

In Tennessee:

* Per year: 42,300

* Per month: 3,520

* Per week: 810

In Georgia:

* Per year: 82,720

* Per month: 6,890

* Per week: 1,590

Nationwide:

* Per year: 2.3 million

* Per month: 191,670

* Per week: 44,230

Source: Families USA

Thousands of Tennessee and Georgia residents are losing their health insurance with every passing week, often losing their coverage after a layoff or getting priced out of the commercial insurance market, according to a report released Wednesday.

Assuming no significant health policy changes are passed before the end of 2010, an average of 3,520 Tennesseans could lose their health insurance every month, or 42,300 per year, according to projections from Families USA, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization focused on achieving affordable, quality health care.

In Georgia, the report predicts, 6,890 people will lose coverage each month, amounting to 82,720 in a year.

The report's authors say the numbers underline the crucial need for health care reform to avert the projected rise in the uninsured. They hope the statistics add a sense of urgency to deliberations over reform that are ongoing in Congress.

"The longer Congress waits to act, the more families will lose coverage," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, in a conference call on Wednesday.

The projected numbers of newly uninsured were based on national figures published in the May issue of policy journal Health Affairs, which assumed that no significant policy changes would take place under the current congressional session, which takes a month-long break at the first of August and stops for the year on Oct. 30.

At the Primary Health Care Center, a nonprofit organization that has medical clinics for underserved residents of Trenton, Ga., and Rossville, Ga., the number of uninsured patients appears to have remained steady over the past year, CEO Diana Allen said.

But Ms. Allen said she's worried the worst is yet to come.

"What we're thinking is the bottom hasn't totally fallen out yet," she said.

Many employers who have laid off workers have continued workers' health coverage for a number of months, she said. Extended benefits through the federal program COBRA can provide about nine months of additional coverage after a layoff, she said.

"We're thinking we're going to see the real impact of all of this in about three to six months," she said.

HEALTH REFORM TALKS CONTINUE

Congressional committees finally are beginning to release specific bills on health care reform. On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed a health reform bill that still must be reconciled with the forthcoming Senate Finance Committee measure.

Earlier this week, the three House of Representatives committees that cover health care put forth a joint health care bill to be voted on in the coming days.

A number of factors are contributing to rising rates of uninsured Americans.

As unemployment rates climb, many people are losing employer-sponsored health insurance along with their jobs, Mr. Pollack said. According to the Urban Institute, for every 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate, there is a 0.59 percent bump in the number of uninsured adults under 65, he said.

In addition to job losses, skyrocketing premium rates also are making health insurance unaffordable for employers and individuals. The average annual family premium has risen 119 percent between 1999 and 2008, from $5,791 to $12,680, the report said.

A broken health care system, as well as the unhealthy lifestyles of Americans, are persistent problems that have been exacerbated by the recent economic recession, said Jerry Burgess, president and CEO of nonprofit Health Care 21 Business Coalition in Knoxville. The organization focuses on improving the quality and cost of health care.

"The loss of health care benefits among smaller employers has been going on for 10 years, so it's not because we're in a recession," he said. "It's not going to get much better when we come out of a recession, because the root problems that are driving it are still there."

about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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mikeoliphant said...

Without TORT REFORM, medical provider costs will never drop. We are always screaming about health care reform. Shouldn’t TORT REFORM be included? Studies show with http://www.healthinsurancetexas.biz and http://www.dentalinsuranceutah.net that liability insurance costs are approaching nearly half of the operating expenses for specialty care physicians, units and facilities. Humana health plans state that their costs of medical liability and defensive medicine accounts for nearly 10 cents out of every premium dollar collected. Compare that to Humana’s reported pharmaceutical claims of 15 cents out of every premium dollar collected. Or better yet, 21 cents out of every premium dollar collected is paid back to physicians for physician treatments.

July 16, 2009 at 5:01 p.m.
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