More and more people lack insurance, access to care

Federal stimulus money will help expand community health center services.

By Doug Trapp — Posted April 10, 2009

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Both the number of Americans who lack access to primary care physicians and the number of uninsured Americans have increased by millions in recent years, according to two new estimates.

The uninsured population in 44 states grew since the last major push for health system reform in 1994, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report "At the Brink: Trends in America's Uninsured 1994-2007." The state-by-state summary -- released March 24 as part of Cover the Uninsured Week -- compares U.S. Census numbers from 1994-1996 averages to 2006-2007 averages. Only Massachusetts, Alabama, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, West Virginia and the District of Columbia saw drops in their uninsured populations.

Overall, about 46 million Americans are uninsured, an increase of 9 million from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. "As high as the numbers of uninsured people seem to be, they don't even reflect the current crisis with millions of Americans losing their jobs, which puts their insurance status in jeopardy," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's president and CEO.

Likewise, the number of Americans who are "medically disenfranchised" because they lack access to primary care physicians increased by 4 million between 2007 and 2009 to 60 million, according to "Primary Care Access: An Essential Building Block of Health Reform." That study was released March 24 by the National Assn. of Community Health Centers.

The community health center report identifies the number of people living in areas that have been federally designated as lacking enough primary care physicians to care for the population. The number of disenfranchised has grown despite health centers' efforts to care for more patients. The association estimates that health centers will see 18 million patients this year, an increase of 2 million since 2007.

Additional federal funding for health centers is on the way. The Dept. of Health and Human Services on March 27 announced the release of $338 million from the recently enacted stimulus package to expand community health center services. "These grants will aid centers in their efforts to provide care to an increasing number of patients during the economic downturn," said Health Resources and Services Administration chief Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN.

Some resources are available online:

  • The list of health center grants by state is listed on the HHS Web site (link).
  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report can be accessed online (link).
  • The National Assn. of Community Health Centers report is also online (link).

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