Sources of Health Insurance and Characteristics of the Uninsured: Analysis of the March 2000 Current Population Survey

December 2000
EBRI Issue Brief #228
Paperback, 28 pp.
PDF, 146 kb
Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2000

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Executive Summary

  • This Issue Brief provides summary data on the insured and uninsured populations in the nation and in each state. It discusses the characteristics most closely related to an individual's health insurance status. Based on EBRI estimates from the March 2000 Current Population Survey (CPS), it represents 1999 data—the most recent available.
  • In 1999, for the first time since at least 1987, the percentage of Americans with health insurance increased: 82.5 percent of nonelderly Americans (under age 65) were covered by some form of health insurance, up from 81.6 percent in 1998. The percentage of nonelderly Americans without health insurance coverage declined from 18.4 percent in 1998 to 17.5 percent in 1999.
  • The main reason for the decline in the number of uninsured Americans is the strong economy and low unemployment. Between 1998 and 1999, the percentage of nonelderly Americans covered by employment-based health insurance increased from 64.9 percent to 65.8 percent, continuing a longer-term trend that started between 1993 and 1994.
  • In 1999, 34.1 million Americans received health insurance from public programs, and an additional 15.8 million purchased it directly from an insurer. Twenty-five million Americans participated in the Medicaid program, and 6.5 million received their health insurance through the Tricare and CHAMPVA programs and other government programs designed to provide coverage for retired military members and their families.
  • Despite expansions in the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), public health insurance coverage did not increase overall between 1998 and 1999. The percentage of nonelderly Americans covered by Medicaid and other government-sponsored health insurance coverage did not change between 1998 and 1999, though some children benefited from expansions in government-funded programs. The percentage of children in families just above the poverty level without health insurance coverage declined dramatically, from 27.2 percent uninsured in 1998 to 19.7 percent uninsured in 1999. Some of the decline can be attributed to expansions in Medicaid and S-CHIP, but it appears that expansions in employment-based health insurance and individually purchased coverage had an even larger effect than expansion of S-CHIP.
  • Even though the number and percentage of uninsured declined substantially between 1998 and 1999, more than 42 million Americans remain uninsured. As long as the economy is strong and unemployment is low, employment-based health insurance coverage will expand and the uninsured will decline gradually. If the economy continues to soften or comes close to a recession, the number of uninsured would easily and quickly start to increase again as unemployment rises. Should a severe downturn in the economy occur, causing the uninsured to represent 25 percent of the nonelderly population, 63 million Americans would be uninsured.