Uninsured in America: Overview

More than one out of every seven people in the United States lacks health insurance. Age, ethnicity, gender and income level all play a role in determining whether an individual is likely to have health coverage. Young adults, racial and ethnic minorities, males and individuals living in poverty are disproportionately represented among the uninsured in America.

A host of factors influences the number of uninsured in America. Rising health insurance costs have caused many employers to shift a greater portion of healthcare expenses to their employees. As this shift has occurred, more and more employees are finding the rising costs prohibitive and are turning down employer-sponsored health coverage. For those covered under public health insurance programs, such as Medicaid, how states are defining eligibility is having a significant impact on the number of uninsured in each state.

Being uninsured has consequences for the individual and for healthcare providers. America’s uninsured have higher rates of unmet medical needs and are more likely to postpone receiving medical treatment. For the healthcare community, a large uninsured population presents numerous challenges. The uninsured are more likely than those with insurance to use the emergency room as a regular source of care either because they lack access to primary care or because a health problem has escalated.

Health Reform Aims to Reduce Proportion of Uninsured Americans

Recently passed federal healthcare reform aims to drastically reduce the number of uninsured in America. Several provisions have already gone into effect and many more will be phased in over the coming years. Some of the key provisions that will impact the number of uninsured, such as the creation of health insurance exchanges and the individual mandate to purchase insurance, are already helping to decrease the number of uninsured. Other provisions, such as the optional state expansion of the Medicaid program, are helping to decrease the number of uninsured in states that have taken advantage of this provision. Yet with detractors aiming to repeal key provisions of the law or cut off funding needed for implementation, federal health reform’s eventual impact on the uninsured in America remains to be seen.

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