Aug. 30, 2005 - The number of Americans without health insurance rose by 800,000 last year, reaching a record high of nearly 46 million, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday.
Officials blamed the increase in part on the continuing erosion of workplace-sponsored health insurance. A majority of Americans still get their coverage by sharing costs with their employer, though a smaller and smaller percentage of American jobs are now accompanied by medical benefits.
The number of Americans with no private or public medical coverage increased from 45 million in 2003 to 45.8 million in 2004, though the percentage of the population without insurance held steady at 15.7%.
Twenty-one million full-time workers had no health insurance in 2004, a 0.6% increase from the previous year, census officials said.
Public Insurance vs. Private Insurance
Officials attributed that overall stability to public insurance programs for the poor, including Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Those programs saw a half-percent increase in coverage rates, nearly offsetting insurance losses in private insurance.
At the same time, 11.2% of American children remained uninsured in 2004, according to the figures.
Medical groups and advocacy organizations have urged elected officials to tackle the rising number of uninsured Americans, though the issue has proved to be one of the most politically contentious long-term issues in Washington.
View From the White House
President Bush has proposed a system of government tax credits designed to help families purchase insurance, though the White House has made no moves to spur action in Congress. Critics say that the $1,000 credits will do little to help most families buy coverage, which now costs upwards of $10,000 per year for the average family of four, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Bush also backs a plan allowing small businesses to join in purchasing worker coverage, though Congress has yet to approve the program.
Robert Helms, a health policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, argues that Tuesday's numbers give lawmakers little incentive to treat the nation's uninsured problem as a crisis.