August 31, 2006


Caption: Waiting for health care.

You know you are on your way to policy wonkhood when you start waiting anxiously for the annual release of census data.

The end of August means, among other things, the release of the report on poverty, income and health insurance status.

Of these, health care is likely to be a growing focus of public debate. To get an idea of the dimensions of the nation's health care crisis, sometimes a little social math can help turn numbers into a more concrete image.

In his 2003 book The Two Percent Solution, Matthew Miller made it very clear:

The uninsured may seem invisible, but today their ranks are equal to the combined populations of Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, Kansas, Arkansas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming.

(That was the total population of 23 states.)

Unfortunately, this example came from The Good Old Days of a few years ago when only 42 million Americans lacked health care. According to the new data, the number of uninsured Americans increased from 45.3 to 46.6 million. The geographically inclined might be able to fit a few more states into that.

The number of Americans covered by private and work-related plans also declined.

As Goat Rope has often ranted, an estimated 18,000 Americans die prematurely each year due to lack of health care coverage while the US spends more of its GDP on health care and gets less from it than any other industrialized country. And the cost of providing uncompensated care to those without health care coverage (often too little and too late) drives up costs for everyone else.

The only rational solution is to move to some form of universal coverage. But if that is going to get on the national agenda, people are going to have to put it there.


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