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More American Adults Lack Health Insurance
Published on Thursday, July 1, 2004 by Reuters
More American Adults Lack Health Insurance
by Paul Simao
 

ATLANTA - The number of American adults who live without health insurance surpassed 20 percent last year, the second consecutive yearly rise, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.

The CDC nationwide survey of more than 91,000 people did not say what led to the increase in uninsured adults to 20.1 percent in 2003 from 19.1 percent the previous year.

The level of uninsured adults in 2003 was also 6.3 percent above that of 1997, the height of the U.S. economic boom and the first year for which such data became available.

The drop in coverage between 1997 and 2003 occurred during a period marked by a downturn in the U.S. economy and a subsequent rise in unemployment.

Unlike Canada and some other Western nations, the United States does not offer universal health insurance to its citizens. Most Americans receive coverage through their employers or purchase it from private companies.

Overall, 43.6 million Americans of all ages, or 15.2 percent of the population, went without health insurance in 2003, up from 14.7 percent in 2002 and down slightly from 15.4 percent in 1997, according to the CDC survey. Hispanics were three times more likely than whites and about twice as likely as blacks not to have insurance.

The problem, one of the major themes of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's campaign for the White House, also places a burden on taxpayers, who must absorb the health costs of the uninsured.

The nation made progress in raising coverage among children. The percentage of youths without health insurance dropped to 10.1 percent last year from 13.9 percent in 1997.

Robin Cohen, an official with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, said the improvement reflected efforts by states to increase coverage for children living at or near the poverty line.

An estimated 18,000 Americans die each year because they lack health insurance, according to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine, an independent, nonprofit group that advises Congress and the federal government on health issues.

One in seven families in the United States -- most of which are already covered by health insurance -- also struggle with debt from medical expenses, a separate study by the nonprofit Center for Studying Health System Change found on Wednesday.

© Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd

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