Census Data: For Record Number of Americans, Recession Is Far From Over

Poverty has been rising for much of the last decade
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from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, interpreting the Census data

National poverty rate hit 15.1% last year, the highest level since 1993

As the recession took its toll last year, more Americans fell into poverty, saw their incomes decline and joined the ranks of the uninsured, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau released the results of its annual Current Population Survey today in a new report — the first to include a full year of data from the Great Recession.

During 2010, the poverty rate increased to 15.1%, the highest level since 1993, with a record-breaking 46.2 million American adults and children living in poverty. Median household income also declined, and the number of individuals without health insurance increased again, now approaching 50 million.

Public programs continued to play an important role in blunting the full force of the economic downturn. An estimated 3.2 million Americans were kept out of poverty through unemployment insurance coverage, while public health programs such as Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) helped to fill the gap as employment-based coverage declined once again.

Building a Competitive Insurance Marketplace in PA

A blog post from Christopher Lilienthal, originally published on Third and State.

So have you ever used Travelocity to book a flight? Or the Consumer Reports web site to research a new car?

Then you probably know the value of comparative shopping. I, for one, never book a flight before comparing just about every option and airline. What is the cheapest day of the week to fly, which airline offers nonstop flights, how long will I be in the air?

As Antoinette Kraus of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) wrote in an op-ed last week:

Sites like Travelocity have made air travel, car rentals and hotel bookings more convenient, competitive and affordable.

The same can't be said for health insurance, but that's about to change. The federal Affordable Care Act calls for the creation of competitive health-insurance marketplaces by 2014 to provide individuals and small businesses with a place to buy high-quality, affordable health coverage.

Pennsylvania's Insurance Commissioner is holding hearings this month to gather public input on what the state's new health insurance marketplace should look like. Hearings were held outside Pittsburgh and Philadelphia earlier this month, with the third and final hearing happening today near Harrisburg. Sharon Ward of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will be one of the testifiers at that hearing.

The Blues Merger

Jane Von Bergen has a really strong Inquirer piece this morning about health insurance competition in our state and how it plays out for some of the larger purchasers of insurance, What can happen if Blues compete. The part that will hit home the most for some of us is the story about the car dealership owner who plays the two off against each other for a better rate. That said, some of the stories about how the market opened up and how that played out for some of the region's big institutions also has a lot of food for thought in it.

Some advocates here are already organizing around opportunities presented by this merger. The "non-profit" Blues in the state are sitting on such an unbelievable amount of money in "reserves" that a massive earthquake could ravage the whole state and they'd probably still be able to cover the doctor bills. Then, of course, there is the question of who will keep The Big Blue honest if it controls the overwhelming majority of the insurance market.

Anyway, Philadelphians have a chance to weigh in on the proposed merger at the Philadelphia Sheraton on July 15th.

Health Centers! Emergency Care! Increasing support for Public Health

PUP members supporting the city's efforts to bring in more Federal funds on 4/14/08

In the present economic downturn, many states have decreased their spending, particularly in the area of public health. That's why it's gratifying to see City Council, the Department of Public Welfare and the General Assembly working together to bring more dollars into the state so we can actually improve care for the Uninsured and Medicaid eligible population in Philadelphia.

Quick Fact! Just because a person has Medical Assistance Health Coverage, that doesn't mean they can find a doctor! Most doctors around here refuse to accept Medical Assistance, that's why the Federally Qualified Health Centers and the City's Health Centers are so important.

Council took the first step yesterday to move a plan that will move millions more dollars into our hospitals and health centers. PUP is especially excited because the Department of Health believes that these new funds should enable them to bring wait times at City Health Centers down to less than 30 days and improve health care by implementing electronic records throughout all city facilities (including jails and youth centers).

More details in the jump!

An Open Letter to Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, organized by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project

From the Philadelphia Unemployment Project

An Open Letter

April 10, 2008

Dear Senator Clinton and Senator Obama:

Healthcare has been central to each of your campaigns. As you work here in advance of the April 22nd primary, we wanted to alert you that healthcare is the number one opportunity we have to improve the lives of working Pennsylvanians right now. We, the undersigned, believe your campaigns could advance the cause of Pennsylvania’s reforms, should you choose to make them an issue.

Early last year, Governor Rendell unveiled an ambitious package of reforms known as The Prescription for Pennsylvania (Rx4PA, Rx4PA would expand access to health insurance with a high quality healthcare plan. With revisions from the House Democrats, that plan is now known as “Access to Basic Care,” and it passed the House this month in Senate Bill 1137.

Rx4PA would also rein in the forces that have driven up the price of insurance in the small group market, reward employers already providing coverage and insure that no one with a pre-existing condition is denied coverage.These also passed the House of Representatives in House Bill 2098 and House Bill 2005.

If these reforms succeed in the Commonwealth, it will make the arguments for either of your national plans much stronger. Rx4PA’s success should also galvanize your allies in Washington while chastening your opponents.

Make insurers insure people again

A coalition of Democrats and Republicans who really support small businesses is forming to make certain that you can get health insurance at every phase of your life. They should soon send a bill to the Senate that will make our health insurance market make sense.

Can you think of an industry that makes its money by avoiding customers? Doesn't that seem like a really weird concept? Well, there is one: the health insurance industry. Private insurers, like Aetna, carefully screen their customers to keep the ones most likely to have health problems out, a.k.a., "cherry picking." They look for small companies filled with healthy, young workers and offer them great plans. Then, they just rake in premiums, because even at reasonable rates they are making money because the young turks don't get sick.

They can do this because Pennsylvania permits insurers to set rates based for an employer based on the health status of its employees. So, Blue Cross & Blue Shield have to insure everyone. All the middle-aged and older workers end up with the Blues, while Aetna and others steal the healthier workers. By "steal," I mean they rob these larger pools of the healthy workers who bring costs down. That's the same trade-off we've always had with insurance. I pay in now while I'm healthy so that, in exchange, I won't have to pay in so much when I'm older.

That's not how it works anymore. Click "Read More" to find out what legislators are trying to do about it.

Rx4PA: HB 2005 clears its first committee hurdle

HB 2005 came out of the House Insurance Committee this week. It's a bill that Rep. Deluca (D-Pittsburgh) wrote that finally gives us some control of the health insurance industry. Imagine: up to this point, car insurance was better regulated than health insurance. That's like telling a kid not to run with scissors but letting him play with your guns. That could end. Word on the street is that they'll get HB2005 to the floor by the end of the year. That would be good.

Of course, lobbying and politics made it all more complicated than the had been initially planned. I'm not going to put the text of the bill in here, but here's the deal: small employers get nailed on their premiums all the time. Let's say we've got a plumbing company, right? We'll call it Dan & Ray's Plumbing. You've got this great plumber named Jen, and Jen's been working with you for years. Great gal. Works hard. She's in her late 40's. The doctor tells her that she needs a double-bypass. Big bill to your insurance carrier. Suddenly, we're paying a lot more money for all our plumbers, all our shop assistants and all our administrative staff. Premiums can spike like crazy because one of your crew had the audacity to get sick. The nerve.

Sickness is no good for insurance company profits.

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