Recessions take toll on health insuranceAs Congress approaches a showdown on health care reform, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted to improving health care reports recessions since 2000 “have taken a tremendous toll on people’s ability to afford health insurance and employers’ capacity to offer it.” In North Dakota, the number of uninsured people in the middle class (family income between $40,000 and $75,000) jumped from 15,000 in 2000 to 17,000 in 2008, according to the report released today Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
By: By Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — As Congress approaches a showdown on health care reform, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted to improving health care reports recessions since 2000 “have taken a tremendous toll on people’s ability to afford health insurance and employers’ capacity to offer it.”
In North Dakota, the number of uninsured people in the middle class (family income between $40,000 and $75,000) jumped from 15,000 in 2000 to 17,000 in 2008, according to the report released today Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In Minnesota, the number of middle-class uninsured rose from 107,000 to 127,000, the foundation report states.
And while employers continue to cover most of the cost of their employees’ health insurance premiums, the employees’ share for a family premium increased by 60 percent in North Dakota from 2000 to 2008, the report states, and by 54 percent in Minnesota.
“America’s uninsured crisis means that hard-working people with average incomes are being squeezed,” according to Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation.
“The fallout from rising health insurance costs hits everyone,” she said. “Employers must choose between either passing on costs to workers who cannot afford the increase and therefore drop coverage, or paying more for their employees’ coverage at the cost of creating and preserving jobs.”
Blues: Claims up, so premiums up
A spokeswoman for North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm said that recent estimates have put the uninsured in the state at about 8 percent. The department has no breakdown by income level, she said.
In the March 2009 publication by the Dakota Medical Foundation and the Center for Rural Health at UND, “An Environmental Scan of Health and Health Care in North Dakota,” the state’s overall uninsured rate was cited as 8.2 percent.
Asked to review the Robert Wood Johnson report Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield — which does about 90 percent of the health insurance business in North Dakota — said BCBS could not immediately confirm or dispute the report’s numbers.
“However, we agree that increasing health care costs are unsustainable,” Denise Kolpack said, “and we support and are working for health reform that works for North Dakota.”
She said the report’s “biggest omission” is an explanation for why health care premiums have increased, which she said is “the direct result of people using more and better health care services.”
The Blues in North Dakota paid $548 million in member claims in 2000, Kolpack said, and $1.194 billion in 2008.
“Although North Dakota premiums doubled between 2000 (and) 2008, medical claims payments more than doubled” during that time, she said.
The report was prepared for the foundation by the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota, using data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Researchers found that fewer people across the country were offered or were eligible for insurance coverage through their jobs as employers stopped providing the benefit or changed criteria for eligibility. Also, more workers declined the benefit because of increased premiums and benefit restrictions.
“The facts show that everyone is suffering right now, regardless of income,” Lavizzo-Mourey said. “For middle-class families, changes in the cost of insurance far outweigh changes in income. That means a bigger piece of the household budget must go to insurance, or families have to go without coverage, delay needed care and face bankruptcy if anyone in the family gets seriously ill.”
In addition, business owners increasingly won’t be able to shoulder the burden of health care costs, and states won’t be able to deal with the numbers of laid-off workers coming into public programs.
“It’s a crisis in need of solutions,” she said.
Kolpack, vice president for communications at BCBS of North Dakota, said that North Dakota “has one of the lowest rates of (middle class) uninsured,” at 9.6 percent, and only four states — including Minnesota — are lower.
She said North Dakota was one of just 12 states that registered a decrease in the percentage of businesses not offering insurance.
Chuck Haga is a reporter for The Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.