Today, 49.9 million Americans (26.2 percent of the population) do not have health insurance coverage. On March 23, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law, paving the way for reform of the major shortcomings in our nation’s health insurance system. But now this law is under attack.
The United States is one of only two fully industrialized countries, along with South Africa, that do not ensure that all citizens have health insurance, either through a national universal health care program or by forcing employers to pay for health insurance for all their employees.
Today, 49.9 million Americans (26.2 percent of the population) do not have health insurance coverage. To put this into perspective, 49.9 million is greater than the populations of the 24 smallest states combined. A substantial portion of our population is also underinsured, or unable to entirely cover the costs of their medical care. An estimated 35 percent of the population is underinsured.
The rising cost of health care was cited as one of the primary reasons for the increase in the numbers of uninsured Americans. Since 1999, family premiums have increased by 131 percent, placing an undue financial burden on employers and workers. With worker’s wages also rising at a much slower pace than health care costs, many Americans face difficulties in affording out-of-pocket health care costs: because of high premiums and co-pays, many underinsured Americans are forced to choose between feeding their families and taking necessary medicine.
Sadly, minority populations lack health insurance at a much greater rate than the general population. One in five African Americans, one in four American Indians, and one in three Latinos lack health insurance of any kind. In addition, 7.3 million children (9.9 percent) are uninsured. This number is especially staggering when one considers that government programs such as SCHIP (see below) are in place specifically to ensure that no children are uninsured.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March 2010, includes health-related provisions to take effect over the next four years. This legislation is, like most legislation, a collection of compromises, but there is no mistaking that it is a vital step toward more affordable, accessible and quality health care for all Americans.
Health reform detailed in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will insure an additional 32 million Americans once the law has been fully implemented. The law:
- Expands Medicaid eligibility
- Subsidizes insurance premiums to make coverage more affordable
- Provides incentives for businesses to provide health insurance benefits
- Bans denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions
- Establishes health insurance exchanges
But some members of the Senate and House of Representatives in the 112th Congress, which began in January 2011, have vowed to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Repealing the law would return the health care system to its broken status quo.
Visit the RAC's Chai Impact Action Center to send an e-mail to your Member of Congress, urging him/her to oppose any effort to repeal the health care reform law.
For more information about the implementation of health reform and details about specific provisions, explore the Kaiser Family Foundation’s resources or visit Faithful Reform in Health Care's website.